Exodus on Epiphany

It has become a tradition of mine to spend the last day or two of my trips to Estonia in Tallinn, the country’s Capital, largest city, and primary tourist destination. I do this to rest and to attempt to reset my body back to Texas time. I also do it to check a few items off my “favorite things about Estonia” list. When it isn’t winter, that list includes walking the Song Festival Grounds and roaming the winding back-alleys of Old Town, When it is winter (as well as when it isn’t), the list also includes coffee and pastries at RØST, a Scandinavian bakery in the Rotermann City district of town, which is where I am writing this.

Though there are fewer tourists to Tallinn in the winter, the removal of outdoor seating brings larger indoor crowds to its famous eateries. Such was the case this morning, as I had to stand and eat my Kaneelisaiake and drink my coffee as I waited for people to get up and leave.

The bakery is full again now and, as best as I can tell, there are Estonians, Russians, assorted indecipherable Scandinavians, and one American from Texas enjoying respite from the cold. Rotermann City is in a district that, in the 19th century, held the crossroads between Narva on the Russian border to the east, Parnu, the Baltic resort town, and my beloved Tartu to the south.

It was as good a place as any to resume my reading of Exodus.

After the plagues and the passover, the Hebrews began their long journey to Canaan, but not before Pharoah changed his mind, once again. “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and lost their services!” (Ex. 14:5)

The Hebrews also had a change of heart, after they saw Pharaoh’s armies approaching. “They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!'” (Ex. 14:11-12)

Regardless of what one knows or believes about Critical Race Theory (both the actual CRT and the boogeyman CRT of Fox News), it is difficult, once you have been exposed to it, to read scripture about enslavement and freedom and in-group/out-group phenomenon (such as the prohibition against uncircumcised foreigners eating the Passover meal), through any other lens than one of power.

It seems human history is one group of people seeking power over another group of people, with certain groups having certain longstanding historical advantages.

Eight hundred miles to my south, Russia is exercising power over Ukraine. “What have we done? We have let them go and lost their services!” If they could, they would seek to do the same thing right here where I am sitting. One day, they may be able. But if it wasn’t Russia, it would be someone else. Estonia has been occupied by all of its neighbors at some point in its history.

I sit and reflect on ways to break out of this power-over-the-weak cycle. Then I look at the date on my watch. January 6: Epiphany. The day of the Three Wise Men from the east. This must be why there was a crowd of people outside Jaani Kirik waiting to be let in to pray on my walk from my hotel to RØST.

On Epiphany, we remember the visit of the Magi from the east to the young Jesus. They brought gifts, but their part of the story also included circumventing the plans of Herod to do violence against the one who threatened his power. Whether they arrived when Jesus was a baby or a young toddler is insignificant. The Epiphany scene included characters with varying degrees of power– some insignificant, some temporal, and one eternal– laying power aside to bring and receive gifts.

I look back and see the baker making any number of delicious pastries. I smell the coffee beans roasting in the back. Gifts of caffein, sugar, butter, flour, and the not-Passover-friendly leaven. I titled this “Exodus on Ephiphany,” because I was reflecting on reading the Exodus story on Ephipany. Perhaps this has further significance, but when I look at the title, I’m reminded that “on” is Estonian for “is.”

Exodus on Epiphany: Exodus is Epiphany.

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