“You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
Some years, my son and I ran into a man who asked me if I was Jewish. I had told him my surname—Schaap—which he identified as a particularly Jewish name in
We were in the Netherlands.
The day before, we’d visited Westerbork, the transit station where a hundred thousand Dutch Jews bade tearful goodbyes on their way to concentration camps, never to return. The commemorative displays at Westerbork weren’t fully accessible to visitors who don’t read Dutch, but words aren’t all that important when one stands beside railroad tracks where cattle cars stuffed with starving human cargo once chugged away to death factories.
It was an eerie juxtaposition: Westerbork’s horror with the possibility that somehow I too could have been wearing that war-time yellow star. My son felt it too, I think, even though he was just a boy.
Elie Wiesel’s Night is perhaps the most famous piece of Holocaust literature. Wiesel’s time in the camps, his loss of his father specifically, but his experience of deprivation and insane inhumanity all made powerless the God he thought he knew. When a beloved boy is hung by the SS, someone asks, “where is God?” --a voice within Wiesel answers: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . .” What Wiesel tells God is that innocence and faith and light itself died in the camps.
Asaph tells a different story. In Psalm 77, he tells the world, in triumph, that the remembrance of things past washes out whatever torture darkens the soul, enables us always to see light behind the curtain. When Asaph remembers the exodus, God’s love reruns in his imagination, seems to return to his soul and his world. When he tells the Passover story, he is reminded once again of divine love.
The unbounded joy of the Exodus promises to heal what Elie Wiesel cannot shake--the horrified agony of the Holocaust. If my people were among the millions who died in the camps, would Psalm 77 lift the darkness? Whose story would I retell—Asaph’s or Wiesel’s?
The big windows just to my right hold nothing but darkness right now, but it’s Easter, the morning all of us learned the greatest story ever told. This morning, once and forever, death was conquered, suffering dispelled. This morning, when Mary went to the tomb, she simply couldn’t believe what was there and wasn’t: it was open after all, and he was gone.
He is risen. He’s alive. The sun rises even on the darkest moments of our lives. That’s what we believe, even in the darkest night, even when joy seems banished.
God was there when Moses lifted up his arms. Bless his holy name.
But was he at Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Trebelinka and Dachau? At Westerbork? Is he there in all our suffering?
Asaph’s testimony in Psalm 77 is glorious, absolutely glorious—as light is to darkness, as morning is to night. Lead us too by the hand, Lord, because yours is the story we have to hear, this morning especially. You’re alive.
Once for always you arose. Once, for us.