“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord carried back the sea by a strong south wind all that night and made the sea dry ground. Thus the waters were divided.” (OSB)
In this verse, and in the imagery of the whole exodus account, we are transported back to the creation account of Genesis 1. Just as when God, by the wind/Spirit of Gen 1:2, created the world and divided the primordial waters of creation, causing dry land to appear for the life of mankind, so now God “creates” Israel as a new humanity of king-priests through water and wind/Spirit, making through the dry land a “way of salvation” for His people. Moreover, just as the waters of creation became tools for judgment in the Great Flood, so here God judges and conquers His enemies—Pharaoh and the Egyptian armies—through the waters of the Red Sea.
In the exodus, as St. Augustine comments, we find the whole pattern of our initiation into Christ and His saving mysteries:
This people of God, freed from a great and broad Egypt, is led, as through the Red Sea, that in baptism it may make an end of its enemies. For by the sacrament as it were of the Red Sea, that is by baptism consecrated with the blood of Christ, the pursuing Egyptians, the sins, are washed away. (ACC Exodus, p. 76)
For his part, St. Gregory of Nyssa emphasizes the true re-creative nature of Baptism:
Those who pass through the mystical water in baptism must put to death in the water the whole phalanx of evil—such as covetousness, unbridled desire, rapacious thinking, the passion of conceit and arrogance, wild impulse, wrath, anger, malice, envy, and all such things. … [W]e should make a totally new beginning in life after these things [i.e., the Passover and Red Sea crossing], breaking the continuity with evil by a radical change for the better. Thus also he means here that after we have drowned the whole Egyptian person (that is every form of evil) in the saving baptism we emerge alone, dragging along nothing foreign in our subsequent life. (Life of Moses Bk 2.125-6)
It is clear, then, that the Fathers are simply expanding upon the Apostle who speaks of baptism as the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
As we enter into the Baptismal font, we are mystically united with Christ’s own death and resurrection, such that Christ’s death becomes our death, and His resurrection our resurrection. Christ’s death and resurrection is itself the true exodus (Lk 9:31), the true Baptism and Cup of salvation (Mk 10:38), the true Paschal meal (Lk 22:7ff; 1 Cor 5:7). In Christ, we are transferred from the “night” of the “power of darkness” into the kingdom of His “marvelous light” (Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Thess 5:5).
Yet it is also true that the Red Sea is the beginning of our salvation, for it marks the start of our pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem—a journey fraught with danger and opportunities to stumble. Yet here as well, Christ Himself is the Way on which we travel (Jn 14:6), for in His whole work of salvation He has inaugurated a “new and living way” for us (Heb 10:20), dividing the veil of the Temple (Mk 15:38) as the Red Sea to confirm for us our entry into the Heavenly Kingdom.
~ By Reader Justin Gohl