In my column last week, I explored how the story of Noah’s Ark prefigured the sacrament of Baptism. St. Peter was the first one to make this connection explicit in one of his scriptural letters. Another clear image of Baptism from the Old Testament is the Exodus story. The “Exodus” is the term used to refer to the Hebrews’ miraculous escape from the enslaving Egyptians. The Exodus was the foundational event for the nation of the Hebrews. Abraham was the first one called by God, and after a couple generations, there were several dozen members of his family. Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was sold to slavers and made his way to Egypt. This story of Joseph takes up a good portion of the book of Genesis and is one of the most wonderful stories in the Bible. However, this story is only building up to the foundational event of the Exodus.
Joseph was able to save the nation of Egypt and eventually his own family through the prudent storage of food before a famine. Joseph brought his whole family to Egypt where they lived in prosperity for a number of years. However, the Hebrews were such strong people that the Egyptians began to fear them and thus made them slaves. For 430 years, the Hebrews worked under the Egyptians, but their family which was so small was still becoming a great nation. The stage was set for the most dramatic event in history up to that point, when God called Moses to lead his chosen people out of slavery into freedom. In this event, the evil of the Egyptians was destroyed when they were drowned by the sea closing in on them. And here we have a great connection to Baptism. Baptism frees us from the slavery of sin into the freedom of God’s love. The evil oppressors, sin and the devil, are cast off and destroyed. (The devil still exists after baptism but he no longer has authority over God’s people.)
In crossing the Red Sea, God miraculously led his people out of oppression, through water, towards the Promised Land. It took forty years of wandering before God finally led the Hebrews to the “land of milk and honey,” as it was called. The Exodus was only the beginning of freedom from slavery. In the same way, Baptism is only the beginning for a Christian. Baptism is the doorway, and thankfully we have six other sacraments to help us along as we also wander in the desert. During the Hebrews’ wandering, God taught them and gave them the law through the Ten Commandments and other laws such as those found in the book of Leviticus.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil wonderfully dives into the mystery of Baptism through the Exodus. It is required that the story of the Exodus be read at the Easter Vigil, and those who are baptized are saved by passing through the water. If you have never attended an Easter Vigil, I highly encourage you to do so this year! It is sometimes called the “Mother of All Vigils” because it is the most solemn celebration of the entire church year. Simply experiencing this celebration can be a great way to come to a better appreciation of baptism, which is a great gift of freedom from God!