In the Lectionary

Sunday, September 11, 2011: Exodus 14:19-31

This year the lectionary texts will be heard on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It will be hard for many preachers and congregants to hear this pivotal scripture from Exodus above the rat-a-tat-tat rhetoric of partisanship and triumphalism that still grips our culture at the end of the first post-9/11 decade.

In contrast, I remember the first Sunday after 9/11, a deeply painful day when churches everywhere were filled to capacity with brokenhearted people grieving and praying and hoping for a faithful word from brokenhearted preachers. But that season of crisis and public mourning was brief, and strong cultural forces were soon at work coaxing the national mood out of its rhythm of lament.

Over time, many churches took their cue from the surrounding culture and slipped into a season of vengeance that has been hard to shake. The dangerous temptation as we revisit the horrifying memories—especially with the still fresh news of the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden on our minds—is to identify ourselves too easily with the Israelites who pass unharmed through the Red Sea while their pursuers, the Egyptians, are drowned. "Horse and rider [God] has thrown into the sea" will be heard by some this year with a smug and premature literalism. It will be a shame if we interpret this text of deliverance through a lens that's far more exclusive than God's lens.