While the daily heart of the liturgy of the Church is the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours helps the grace of the Mass to flow through the hours of the day. Along with the psalms which repeat in a four-week cycle, one of the daily dramatic highlights is often the scripture reading from the Office of Readings.
Today, Thursday after Ash Wednesday, the Office of Readings first reading is the beginning of the book of Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament. We all know the last of the great Genesis stories: (hold your breath and I will give it to you in one sentence!) Remember Joseph (and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat), who was sold by his brothers to passing traders travelling to Egypt where he ended up in a position of power overseeing food distribution in a time of famine so that when his brothers came down from Egypt looking for food it was Joseph they had to deal with but they did not recognise him, but he recognised them and sent them home to get his old father Jacob who then joined them in Egypt where Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and they all lived happily for a while until in the last chapter of Genesis Jacob dies, then a few years later Joseph dies and Genesis ends.
Well, the book of Exodus begins with a new king coming to power years after Joseph’s death, whose knowledge of history was not too good and he knew nothing of Joseph. All he did know was that he was faced with a problem: the Israelites in Egypt (descendants of Jacob) had bred like rabbits and threatened to outnumber the Egyptians. The new Pharaoh instituted new laws to control the Israelites, including instructing the Egyptian midwives to kill all the male Israelite children. These midwives were good women and quietly disobeyed the Pharaoh which meant he had to find another solution to the “Israelite problem” so he made the Israelites slaves and treated them harshly.
The rest of the account is one of the most remarkable adventures in human history: a forty year journey from slavery, through desert to true liberation and election as the covenanted People of God. In the Office of Readings tomorrow we will meet Moses, the burning bush, and the story of these forty years continues through these first of the forty Lenten days.
You can follow the action in the Office of Readings at the Universalis website at this link.