The picture below is a rendering of Exodus 15:20-21. The Israelites have just crossed through the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army has drowned in the water rushing back to its normal depth. In the awe and wonder that follows, the text tells us “Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’”
This painting is a gift to Holy Apostles from parishioner Linda Golding. The bright colors and expression on Miriam’s face bring us into the joy of God’s miraculous intervention (and I love the dancing lizard!). In a conversation with Linda about that Biblical moment, she said that there are interpretive differences about Miriam and her companions having tambourines at the ready. Why did they bring such seemingly frivolous items along when everyone had to pack the bare minimum and leave Egypt in haste?
Apparently, there are two responses to this: first, they trusted that all would be well; that there would be reason to celebrate. Or second, that they weren’t sure what God had in store for them—but if it was not the victory they hoped for, there would be a need for spirits to be uplifted. In both cases, and even if only defiantly, there would be a place for exultation.
The turning of our calendar year is an invitation to reflect and to look ahead. This process always involves accepting that the future is unknown to us. And still, our faith urges us to have our own tambourines at the ready (metaphorically or otherwise!). Our insistence on the faith that sustains us may dovetail with a joyful reality, or it may contribute to communal inspiration during difficult times. Either way, we remember St. Paul’s exhortation to “give thanks in all circumstances,” adding our own voices in witness to God’s presence with us—now, and in whatever the new year will bring.