Today’s reading: Joshua 1-9, Psalm 30
“Are we there yet?”
Remember those childhood journeys where you relentlessly pestered a parent (or perhaps a youth leader), wanting to know when you would get where you were going? Now imagine a journey that began when you were a child and continued for forty years until you finally did reach your destination. That’s precisely the scenario in today’s reading.
The people of Israel have been in the wilderness for forty years. Now, in the opening chapters of Joshua, we see the children of the ones who started the journey crossing over the Jordan river into the promised land. This is the moment for which they have all been hoping. Hundreds of years in slavery, followed by decades of wandering. Now, at the end of their sojourn, a miraculous water-crossing out of the wilderness to mirror the one that brought them into it and out of Pharaoh’s hand. The emotions must have been on full tilt that day as they paraded through the Jordan on foot, with the ark of the covenant in full view as they passed by. God had fulfilled God’s promise. They were home.
It’s no wonder that slaves in America kept hope alive by remembering the story of the Israelites’ plight. As dark and desperate as things were, they trusted that God would see them through. Their faith in God and their sense of identification with the people of Israel is seen in the significant number of songs they sang that made reference to crossing the Jordan. For them, “crossing over” became a dominant image to represent the day when they would be free from the oppression and brutality of their captors:
Deep river, my home is over Jordan, Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground. . .
I looked over Jordan and what did I see, comin’ for to carry me home. . .
I stood on the river of Jordan to see that ship come sailin’ over. . . Oh, sister, ya better be ready. . . Oh, brother, ya better be ready. . .
Their imaginative use of this image offers a powerful example of how Scripture can still breathe inspiration and hope into our own time and circumstances.