I swim several miles a week…and it is dreadfully boring. Sometimes, I swim two miles at once…that’s 64 laps. On those frequent occasions where I lose count, I truly attempt to recall the exact lap to which I completed. When I do so, I’m pretty confident I add a few extra laps to the total. In order to avoid these drastic over-estimations, I’ve developed a few techniques in lap-counting. One technique is to think about as many things that happened in 1901 during my first lap…1902 during my second lap…and so on. That technique just illustrates my inadequacies in 20th century historical recollection. Being a biblical scholar, I decided to begin in AD 01. I’m a little better at that one, but even my 1st century historical recollection is a bit sketchy. My favorite lap-counting technique is to begin when I was five years old and then count the laps until I reach my current age of 37. Every time I breathe, I think about the next month of that year: What happened to me during that month? Did I make any spiritual breakthroughs? Where did I go on vacation? Did I kiss a beautiful girl that month? Things like that. I logically understand that some of the days in my past were good, some were bad, and some were just “MEH!” However, when I reminisce, every day in my past ends up being the best day of my life.
I spend so much time reminiscing while I swim laps I often think to myself, “I’ve had some dang good times. I sure wish I could have those days, months, and years back. How can I even hope for a better future, when my past has been so grand?” As I swim, I begin to miss those days…long for those days…mourn for the loss of those days.
In the most recent episode of 30 Rock, Pete Hornberger—the executive producer and head writer of TGS with Tracy Jordan—said the following about his own life:
“Look at my life Jack, my father was a congressman, I was valedictorian at St. Andrews, an Olympic archer, 4th guitarist in Loverboy…as a TEENAGER! It’s almost unbelievable. Now look at me. The last two decades have been a free-fall…if I could stay in the same place for the next five years that would be a huge accomplishment.”
So often, when we gaze into our past, we only consider the good times—we intentionally neglect our painful moments…we push them aside, repress them to where only a skilled therapist could summon them from the depths of our psyche. I don’t want to dance through memory lane and reflect upon getting sucker-punched on the bleachers at a High School football game or having my heart-broken once again. I want to reminisce about my first kiss or the birth of my son.
Even after witnessing some of the most powerful miracles ever displayed; even after fully comprehending the delivering power of God, the Israelites were still tempted to serve Egypt. When the Israelites faced the tumultuous seas of trial, suffering, and difficulties, they still failed to recognize that God had their back.
The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12).
The Israelites, were still reminiscing about their past lives in Egypt. They had forgotten their suffering and were only thinking about the few good things they had in Egypt. Even though the path that lied before them was frightening and unknown, God had great things planned for their future. On the other side of suffering and death lied freedom, redemption, and life. God set the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud behind the Israelites…so it was pitch black behind them and light before them. “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:21-22).
The Israelites needed to die to their old selves…they needed to put the darkness of slavery and the “protection” of their former lord—Egypt—to death. They needed to walk toward the light of God—the cloud that guided them—and be baptized in the Red Sea:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
—1 Corinthians 1:1-2
Today’s Good Friday…the day we remember the suffering and death of Jesus. Today we also take up our crosses and follow Jesus down the Via Dolorosa. The path to our cross is frightening. There are high walls of water on both sides and we wonder if—or when—those walls will come crashing down on top of us. We walk through our valleys of the shadow of death and we fear evil…we wonder why we left the comforts of our former life…the beaches where our captor still stands waiting to pursue us. Soon we will hang on our crosses of suffering with our Lord. By accepting Jesus, we die to ourselves…our pasts…our former lives—no matter how appealing they may SEEM.
Friday is not the final day! The cross is not the end! Thank God! This Sunday we will rise up again with our Lord. By dying to our old self—leaving our past in the past and stop reminiscing about how “great” it was…or “ideal” our situation happened to be—we embrace the light and walk upon His path that lies before us. Quite often, that path leads us through dark, trying, and turbulent waters, but God promises us redemption on the other side. When we pass through the Red Sea we’ll find our way to the other side. When we’re baptized in Christ’s death, we WILL rise to new life in His resurrection.
“We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”