John Parker had the worst seat in the theater. He was attending a popular comedy and could hear the audience roaring with laughter. He could hear most of the lines being said, so sometimes he knew what everyone was laughing about. But he could not see the action and was missing out on much of the fun. Finally, he decided to move, and he was able to find a better seat. He sat down, and from there enjoyed the rest of the first act of the play. He stayed in that seat until the intermission, at which time, he went to a tavern across the street for a drink. It is not known where John Parker was during the second act of the play. But it is known for sure that he was not back in his original seat.
It was the evening of April 14, 1865, and John Parker’s change of seats at the play that night resulted in one of the greatest tragedies in American history. The reason Parker could enjoy the play from his original seat was because he was not there to see the play. Parker was member of the Metropolitan Police Force. He was on duty that night at Ford’s Theater, there to guard and protect President Abraham Lincoln. Parker’s chair was down a balcony hallway, outside the door to the State Box seats where the president and his wife were sitting. Presidential protection in those days was minimal by today’s standards, but when Parker abandoned his post, there was no protection at all.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of good will, and a skilled, powerful, and respected leader. Binding up the nation’s wounds after the long Civil War would have been a challenge even for him. His successor Andrew Johnson was also a man of good will, but was a weak leader and not respected. He was not able to contain the rage and bitterness and thirst for revenge in the postwar years, nor was he able to deal effectively with the integration into society of the many freed slaves. There is no doubt that the following decades would have been much better for this nation had Abraham Lincoln not been killed that night. The course of American history was changed because one man, John Parker, did not do what he was supposed to do. He did not play his part well.
In the second chapter of Exodus we read about Moses’ sister Miriam. In this story, as in the story of John Parker, we see the importance of lesser known people playing well their part in what might seem like small acts of service. It was Miriam’s little brother, Moses, that would one day get all the attention and all the fame. Moses is, in fact, the most important figure in the entire Old Testament. He is referred to in the New Testament more than anyone else, and it was he that God used to bring the Hebrews together as a nation with a common faith. But when Moses was an infant, Miriam played a part in saving him from certain death.
In Exodus chapter one we learn that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. Their cheap labor was desirable, but there was getting to be too many of them, thought Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He reasoned that a large number of Hebrews might decide they could rebel against their masters, so Pharaoh made a law that all boys born to Hebrew mothers were to be thrown into the Nile River and drowned. The mother of Moses attempted to hide him for three months, but then hiding a noisy little baby became impossible. Still unwilling to throw the baby into the river to drown, she put Moses into a basket, and then set the basket adrift in the river, leaving Moses in God’s hands.
At this point, Miriam entered the picture. Miriam watched to see what would happen to the basket. It doesn’t say if she did this on her own, or if her mother told her to do it, but either way, she followed and watched; and then came the miracle.
The river flowed out of the Hebrew ghetto, and down toward the palace. Pharaoh’s daughter was at the river bathing, saw the basket, and heard the crying. It was clear that this was a Hebrew baby boy, and she no doubt knew about her daddy’s rules. But she felt sorry for this little one, had it brought to her, and her father allowed her to keep the baby. In the meantime, Miriam was still in the river, watching everything. It would take courage to come out from hiding among the reeds along the river and approach the king’s daughter. But this is what Miriam did, saying to the princess, “Do you need someone to nurse that baby for you?” The princess agreed that would be a good idea, and Miriam went and got her mother, who got the job. Moses is thus not only saved from certain death, but he is allowed to live in the palace. His own mother was hired to care for him and would be paid out of the king’s treasury to raise her own son; the same king who had ordered that all such babies should be killed. And this baby grew up to be God’s chosen leader to deal the nation of Egypt a most crushing defeat, one that would free all the Hebrews from slavery. It is a wonderful story, filled with miracles, surprises, courage, hope for the future, and, a happy ending– and it was all made possible by the courage of one little girl, Miriam, who was faithful to her little brother and played her part well. (continued…)
Exodus 1:22 — Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Exodus 2:1-4 — Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Micah 6:4 — “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, and also Aaron and Miriam.”
AN EVENING PRAYER FOR LOVED ONES FAR AWAY (Walter Rauschenbusch): O God, we yearn for those who belong to us and who are not here with us. We wish we could be near them to shield them from harm and to touch them with the tenderness of love. We cast our cares for them on you, and pray that you do better for them that we could do. May no distance have the power to wean their hearts from us and may no sloth of ours cause us to neglect communication with them. In due time restore them to us and gladden our souls with their sweet presence. We remember also the loved ones into whose eyes we cannot look again. O God, in whom are both the living and the dead, you are still their life and light, as you are ours. Wherever they may be, lay your hand tenderly upon them and grant that someday we may meet again and hear once more their words of love. Amen.