Papal Address at General Audience

Meditation on Chapter 15 of Exodus

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience, which focused on Chapter 15 of the Book of Exodus.



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1. This hymn of victory (see Exodus 15:1-18), proposed for lauds on Saturday of the first week, takes us back to a key moment of the history of salvation: the event of Exodus, when Israel was saved by God in a situation that was humanly desperate. The facts are well known: Following the long slavery in Egypt, already on the way toward the promised land, the Hebrews were overtaken by Pharaoh´s army, and nothing would have saved them from annihilation if the Lord had not intervened with his powerful hand. The hymn dwells on a description of the arrogance of the plans of the armed enemy: "I will pursue and overtake them; I will divide the spoils" (Exodus 15:9).

However, what can the greatest army do against divine omnipotence? God commands the sea to make a passage for the assailed people and to close the passage to the aggressors: "When your wind blew, the sea covered them; like lead they sank in the mighty waters" (Exodus 15:10).

These are strong images, which attempt to describe the greatness of God, while expressing the wonder of a people who can scarcely believe their eyes, and break out with one voice in a moving song: "My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior. He is my God, I praise him; the God of my father, I extol him" (Exodus 15:2).

2. The song does not just speak of the deliverance obtained; it also indicates the positive objective, which is none other than entry into the dwelling of God to live in communion with him: "In your mercy you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling" (Exodus 15:13). Understood in this way, this event was not only at the base of the covenant between God and his people, but became a "symbol" of the whole history of salvation. On many other occasions, Israel was to experience similar situations, and the Exodus will be timely once again. In a special way, that event prefigures the great deliverance that Christ will bring about through his death and resurrection.

Because of this, our song resounds in a special way in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, to illustrate with the intensity of its images that which was accomplished in Christ. In him we were saved not from a human oppressor, but from that slavery to Satan and sin, which since the beginning weighs on the destiny of humanity. With him, humanity takes up the road again, on the path that leads us back to the Father´s house.

3. This deliverance, already realized in the mystery and present in baptism as a seed of life destined to grow, will attain its fullness at the end of time, when Christ will return in glory and "when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father" (1 Corinthians 15:24). It is this very final, eschatological horizon, that the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to look at, introducing our hymn with a quotation from the Apocalypse: "those who had won the victory over the beast and its image. ? [They] sang the song of Moses, the servant of God" (Revelation 15:2,3).

At the end of time, that which the event of Exodus prefigures and which Christ´s Pasch accomplished in a definitive way, yet open to the future, will be fully realized for all the saved. Our salvation in fact is real and profound, but it is between the "already" and the "not yet" of the earthly condition, as the Apostle Paul reminds us: "For in hope we were saved" (Romans 8:24).

4. "I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant" (Exodus 15:1). Placing on our lips these words of the ancient hymn, the liturgy of lauds invites us to see our day in the great horizon of the history of salvation. This is the Christian way of perceiving the passage of time. In the accumulation of passing days, there is no fatality that oppresses us, but a plan that goes unfolding, and that our eyes must learn to read with discernment.

The Fathers of the Church were particularly sensitive to this historic-salvific perspective; this is why they loved to read the most salient facts of the Old Testament -- from the deluge of Noah´s time to the call of Abraham, and from the deliverance of Exodus to the return of the Hebrews after the Babylonian exile -- as "prefigurations" of future events, imputing to those facts the value of an "archetype": In them were pre-announced the fundamental characteristics that would be repeated in some way throughout the course of human history.

5. As for the rest, the prophets had already reread the events of the history of salvation, showing their always up-to-date meaning and pointing to their fulfillment in the future. Thus, meditating on the mystery of the covenant established by God with Israel, they came to speak of a "new covenant" (Jeremiah 31:31; see Ezekiel 36:26-27), in which the law of God would be written in the very heart of man. It is not difficult to see in this prophecy the new covenant established in the blood of Christ and realized through the gift of the Spirit. By reciting this hymn of victory of the ancient Exodus in the light of the paschal Exodus, the faithful can live the joy of feeling themselves a pilgrim Church in time, toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

6. It is, therefore, about contemplating with ever new wonder all that God has planned for his People: "And you brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your inheritance -- the place where you made your seat, O Lord, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands established" (Exodus 15:17). The hymn of victory does not express the triumph of man, but the triumph of God. It is not a song of war, but a song of love.

Allowing our days to be pervaded by this quiver of praise of the ancient Hebrews, we walk on the roads of the world, full of deceptions, risks and suffering, with the certainty of being enveloped by the merciful gaze of God: Nothing can resist the power of his love.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[At the end of the audience the Pope gave this summary in English.]

In our catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours we are considering the Canticle of the Book of Exodus, which celebrates Israel?s liberation after the crossing of the Red Sea. The Canticle praises the power of God who saved his Chosen People and led them to his holy dwelling (cf. Ex 15:13). The Church reads this canticle within the context of the whole history of salvation, and sees its completion in Christ?s victory over death and humanity?s definitive liberation from the slavery of sin. This liberation, prefigured in the Exodus event, was accomplished once for all on the Cross and will reach its fullness at the end of time, when Christ will hand over his Kingdom to God the Father (cf. 1 Cor 15:24). Against this eschatological horizon the pilgrim Church continues to sing the ancient canticle of the Exodus as she makes her way in joyful hope towards the heavenly Jerusalem and the final fulfilment of all God?s promises.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]