The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Exodus 4.27-5.1; Hebrews 13.16-21
In E M Forster’s wonderful novel ‘A Passage to India’ there’s an infamous trip arranged by Dr Aziz to the Marabar caves.
The caves are famous for their distinctive echo which the English visitors are encouraged to experience. Forster writes
‘The echo in a Marabar cave … is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof.’
The echo becomes a powerful force in what then happens to the characters.
An echo is an amazing thing whether it be in the whispering gallery across the river in the dome of St Paul’s or in this cathedral itself. Children love hearing their voice echo around, their shout continuing in that magical way. And the experience of an echo somehow stays with us.
But there are some even more powerful and life changing echoes and the First Lesson contained one of them which continues to reverberate around the world.
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go.’
‘Let my people go.’
‘.. my people go.’
‘….. people go.’
It was famine that made the people of Israel move from their homeland in Canaan into Egypt. Joseph, sold as a slave by his brothers, out of their jealously, who became the second most powerful in the land and the trusted right hand man of Pharaoh, is a prophetic figure. He was sold into slavery but those who followed him, those who made their home in that land of plenty, became slaves after Pharaoh had died and there was another Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph.
Their taskmasters were harsh and the people suffered the brutality of their overlords. But their numbers kept on growing until, slaves though they were, the people of Egypt were fearful of them and became even more brutal.
Then Moses is plucked from the bulrushes, the slave child becomes part of the royal court mirroring his ancestor Joseph, plucked from a pit in the wilderness where he’d been left for dead. But Moses witnesses the brutality, the harsh slavery under which his brothers and sisters live, he hears God’s call from the Burning Bush and with Aaron commits himself to this work of liberation.
‘Let my people go’ becomes the chorus of this first part of the Book of Exodus and it has echoed through the world since then. It was the song sung by slaves on the plantations in the Caribbean and the United States. It was the shout of Martin Luther King, the courage of Rosa Parks and the motivation of Mandela. It’s been the return-to words of the enslaved in every generation - ‘Let my people go.’
But this, unlike the Marabar echo, is not without distinction. These are words which are effective, can be clearly heard and clearly understood. Because God is the God of Liberation, God is the God of the Exodus and Jesus speaks of his own passion as another exodus, another act of liberation, his death unlocks what keeps us bound and we are set free.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, as we heard in our Second Lesson, brings that letter to its conclusion with words that we use, particularly during the Easter season, as words of blessing.
‘May the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight.’
Jesus was brought back from the dead, liberated from the enslavement to which humankind had been subjected by sin. We were set free. And that means that we should not allow ourselves to step back into slavery nor turn a blind eye to wherever slavery rears its ugly and terrifying head in our world.
The frightening truth is that there are probably more slaves around today than ever before in human history – and there are slaves in our own society, under our noses, who we never notice. And the cry of God, the distinctive echo sounds, ‘Let my people go.’
But are we prepared to listen to the echo and act?