Death on the Shoreline

The first few things I remember about our stretch of Chatham seashore last summer are the waters chopping and clapping against the rocks, the place where the gray sky touched the horizon, and the points of light that blinked there after dark— lighthouses across the bay. I also remember how the seashore smelled like dead things. High tide left behind a carpet of cockles and horseshoe crabs tangled in sea moss, and they’d lay there in the sun and stink.

A few miles north in downtown Chatham was a store called Bob’s Beach Finds— one airy room with high walls and trinkets on shelves. Bob talked to us while we looked over his pieces of preserved driftwood, conch shells, mosaics made from broken sea glass, scratched buoys, and rope. We weren’t there longer than ten minutes because, as it turns out, Bob’s beach finds were mostly things we’d already found. He sold a horseshoe crab shell for fifteen bucks, but Joel had picked up a bigger one on Ridgevale Beach that morning.

The sea, I suppose, is generous with its waste.

Joel found something else on Ridgevale that wasn’t in Bob’s shop. A duck was convulsing in the water, twitching its head to the side and dying, probably grabbed at by something in the bay. Each wave broke over its feathers and carried it a few inches up the sand, and we stood watching God’s creation die on the shores of his sea.

Since our trip to the shoreline, I’ve thought differently about the Red Sea in Exodus and how I might feel watching the Atlantic move under an East wind all night, then split open right at my feet. But I’ve also thought about the other side, where the Israelites watched the tides wash dead Egyptians up onto shore. Their captors were dead, their blood on the hands of the Red Sea, and Israel was alive and singing on the shoreline.

It reminded me that the waters of God’s salvation on his people are also waters of his wrath, because (and I’ve said it before), there must be death before there’s life. The shores of our salvation are more beautiful than Chatham, Massachusetts, with its grasses and bouldered jetties washed by seawater. But it’s also a shoreline where Jesus walked down into the waves of God’s wrath and drank until he drowned, and where we must die to be carried up the sand by waters of mercy and grace.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

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