Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Scripture
Exodus 14:10-31

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ 13But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’
19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Devotional
I have a resurrection story for you this Easter Monday.

When the governor closed the parks this week, it felt like the last straw. Being outside on bike paths and hiking trails had kept me centered and sane through this pandemic. The loss of this simple freedom felt like a kind of death.

Not sure what else to do, I called a lot of people this week instead of emailing them. I had a lot of conversations about how people would be celebrating Passover and Easter amidst a public health crisis. Many had really creative plans but everyone seemed grieved that they wouldn’t be sharing the celebration in person. In one phone call I greeted a senior clergy colleague of mine and asked how he was doing and he said, “Feeding the hungry and burying the dead!” Maybe it seems grim, but it was a reminder that the root of our human journey is embodied, and is really very simple. 

Writing these devotions is creative and fun for me, so I decided to read the daily lectionary for Easter Monday, and that’s when I had the joy of re-reading the story of the parting of the Red Sea. Reading about the parting of the Red Sea reminded me of Laurel Dykstra’s incredible book, Set them Free: The Other Side of Exodus , where she warns her reader against getting swept away in the liberation of the Israelites when it’s more likely as a culture that we play the role of empire and Egypt. She invites her reader to examine where they have power in their lives, and which characterization best matches their place in the world.

The book caused me to remember a beautiful midrash where the rabbis remind us that God weeps for the Egyptians who died that day, awash in terror. My Google search for that midrash led me to this poignant piece from the Mishna :
“Adam was created as a single individual to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul, Scripture considers it as though he had destroyed a whole world…Also, to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One: for if a person strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the Blessed Holy One fashioned every person in the stamp of the first person, and yet not of them resembles his/her fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake…”

I needed a break from my Google searching for Laurel Dykstra and midrashim, so I went for a walk in my neighborhood. One of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab, brought back an episode about Space . I love astrophysics and outer space, so I listened and walked. In the episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds listeners that humans are “a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck.” He talks about how hard it was on our human psyches when Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the solar system. He discusses Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and tells his audience that wherever you are in the universe seems like the center of the universe, but this is an illusion.

Whenever I become extremely frustrated I tell myself, “I have less control than I want.” For some reason this statement of fact helps bring me back to myself. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reiteration of Einstein’s observation had this same calming effect. I have less control than I want, and I’m not actually at the center of things so I can let go of trying to orchestrate the things I do not control. I am obligated only to say, “the world was created for my sake” and take responsibility for my place in it.

Back inside at my computer, I scrolled through a few social media posts and discovered that my friend and seminary classmate, Harold Wheat, posted a video meditation for his congregation. He talked about the importance of self-care and included a video of him taking his canoe, Sabrina, out on the water. Harold draws on Ps 23 and meditates about how important it is to use our self-care tools to make a cup if we want God to overflow it.

Remembering Harold and seminary caused me to recall a class I took in seminary with Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame. Noel was the cousin of our liturgics professor, the late Larry Stookey, and he taught a class one semester as a visiting artist. I indulged myself in several listens of “ Building Block .” 

Stookey’s music made me think about John Prine, who died this week of COVID-related illness. Since I already had my music app open, I figured I would take in a few more tunes. Prine has a beautiful song, “ Boundless Love ,” with a lyric that captures some of the resurrection sentiment I had been searching for during Holy Week: “Sometimes my old heart is like a washing machine / It bounces around 'til my soul comes clean / And when I'm clean and hung out to dry / I'm gonna make you laugh until you cry.”

I can’t explain what it is, but folk music has a tendency to surface a child-like part of me. On acknowledging that, I remembered the Mary Oliver poem, “ Wild Geese ,” and realized that the “soft animal” of my body had come apart from the COVID-19 shell that encased it. 

Out of the loss of something I love (hiking) emerged a great cloud of witnesses who are respirating the Holy Spirit even when I struggle. In this cloud are colleagues who remind me of the simplicity of life, books that keep me humble and midrash that keeps me honest, science and philosophy that keeps me grounded, friends that remind me to take care to be sure I have a cup to overflow, and artists that keep me human. And now I am sharing with you my great cloud of witnesses, which includes the rabbis, Tom, Laurel, Noel, Neil, Albert, Harold, John, Mary and you.

This is my ordinary tale of resurrection.
Prayer
Creating God, sometimes the “Alleluias” take our breath away, and sometimes we haven’t the breath to sing them. Resurrecting Christ, thank you for walking with the great cloud of witnesses to carry the verse until we can join the chorus. Spiriting Wind, fill our lungs with love and let the “soft animal” of our bodies emerge in safety.

Amen
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at: agape@westfieldpc.org.
Easter Monday

In sending along this devotional for Easter Monday, I am reminded of this Sousa march!! 

Click here to read about the Origins of the Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn.

Amy
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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