Archive for the 'Exodus' Category

For August 3, 2014: Transfiguration

The Reading            Exodus 34:29-35

The reading from Exodus is familiar from the last Sunday after Epiphany. It is, so to speak, the second coming down of the Ten Commandments, Moses having broken the original set on discovering that Israel had taken up idol worship. As Moses returns, his face shines with the glory of God’s presence—and terrifies everyone.

The Response            Psalm 99:5-9

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God. The verses we read for the Feast of the Transfiguration reflect the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness and afterward, with God’s priests Moses, Aaron, and later Samuel calling on him for the people, and God speaking to Israel from the pillar of cloud.

The Epistle            2 Peter 1:13-21

The letters of Peter were probably written in his name and after his death: the author of 2 Peter 1:13-21 writes better Greek than a Galilean fisherman would know. This account is nevertheless a compelling witness to the impact on Peter of seeing his friend revealed as the very Son of God.

The Gospel            Luke 9:28-36

Versions of Jesus’ transfiguration are in all three synoptic gospels. Minor details vary—in Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the disciples to say nothing, whereas in Luke’s version the disciples keep mum of their own accord—but all agree on the light, the prophets, Peter’s stunned response, and the announcement from heaven.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for the feast of the Transfiguration make much of appearances. The glow that Moses acquires from contact with God—and the apprehension it produces in the Israelites—prefigures the more striking and pervasive alterations in Jesus, with great Moses and Elijah paying court into the bargain, and the greater extent to which they leave Peter and the other disciples (to borrow the evocative British term) gobsmacked.

Interestingly, the book of Exodus doesn’t mention Moses’ skin shining the first time he brings the Ten Commandments to the people. Either his skin wasn’t shining, or it wasn’t obvious, until the second time, after the people have demanded an idol to worship and Aaron has complied and Moses has had his tantrum on God’s behalf. It’s sobering to think that people notice God’s glory when they need it to scare them straight—sobering, and unsettlingly familiar.

The encounter with Jesus plays out differently. Unlike Moses, Jesus seems both aware of and in control of his glory on the mountaintop. Of course, that’s appropriate to God, and of course Peter babbles. But then there is the voice out of the cloud. The voice doesn’t announce itself as God (not that it would have to), nor does it announce that Jesus is supreme, nor does it lay out point after point and law after law that must be obeyed or penalty after penalty that must be paid.

Instead, as 2 Peter remembers it, the voice simply says, “Listen to Jesus, because I love him.”

What if the kingdom of God is listening to each of the children of God—whether or not they recognize themselves as such—because God loves them?

For April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil of Easter, Year A

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

The Story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

The Valley of Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

These four readings and their responses relate the story of humankind before the mighty acts of Easter. Genesis follows the light and delight of God’s very good Creation with the tale of how an Earth sullied by sin is scoured by the once-in-an-eternity Flood. Exodus relates the flight from Egypt, from whining Israelites to God’s literally one-sided victory over Pharaoh’s forces. Ezekiel, one of many prophets to decry the incapacity of humans on their own to be holy enough, uses the arresting image of dry bones called to life to symbolize the saving power of God.

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. Now the first epistle we read in Easter proclaims our liberation from sin but also looks back to the suffering that has once and for all freed us from sin’s bonds.

The Response            Psalm 114 Page 756, BCP

Psalm 114 celebrates the events of the reading from Exodus in which Israel is delivered from the power of Pharaoh. Even mountains and sea are shaken by God’s great deed!

The Gospel            Matthew 28:1-10

Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus differ in details—Matthew’s is the only one that mentions an angel-caused earthquake and guards terrified into catatonia—but the general outlines are consistent: messengers of God remind two or more women that Jesus is risen, just as he promised, and they instruct the women to bid the disciples join him in Galilee.

 

Ponderables

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ resurrection includes the counsel “Do not be afraid,” twice. The first time, these words are uttered by the angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid. It seems that angels—in Greek, literally ‘messengers’—in their proper forms are so terrifying as to make hardened soldiers swoon. The second time, the words come from the mouth of the risen Jesus himself. He comes not as the familiar Rabbi with whom the disciples had eaten and walked and lived but as a transformed and astonishing messenger with other business elsewhere.

So the messenger always begins, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then the messenger passes on the sort of word that turns one’s world upside down.

The most obviously counter-to-reality claim that Jesus had ever made—that he would return from death to life—has come true, nail marks and all.

And if that is true, think of all the other things Jesus has said that are preposterous within the world as most of us know it. In God’s realm, the meek inherit the earth. The nobodies matter at least as much as the big shots. The genuine leaders are those who serve. The whole of the Law is summed up as “Love God with all your might, and love each other enough to be Christ to each other.” The people of God are each called to follow Jesus to our own crosses—and to the life beyond.

How on earth can we live up to all of that? We can’t.

But how in heaven’s name can we say no?

For April 17, 2014: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

Exodus 12:1-14 gives instruction for a ritual meal—but unlike most ritual meals, it is to be eaten in haste by people who stand with one foot out the door ready to flee, and the blood from the lamb that is slain for the meal will mark the households to be spared when God executes judgment.

The Response            Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 gives thanks to the Lord for help, good things, and deliverance from bondage. “The cup of salvation” could be one of the four cups of the Seder or Passover feast; it could also be a symbol of the abundance of blessing.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The epistle written to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth passes on the words of Jesus at the first Last Supper: remember whenever you eat and drink, for the everyday stuff of bread and wine are the slain Lamb and God’s new promise of unconditional salvation.

The Gospel            John 13:1-17, 31b-35

En route to being betrayed to his own death, Jesus teaches us the truest way to be God: love and serve.

For March 2, 2014: Last Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                                  Exodus 24:12-18

Moses is called to Mount Sinai to receive from God the Law by which Israel is to live. We have a vivid description of Mount Sinai shrouded in cloud, with the glory of God appearing like a fire on the mountain. Who could fail to be transformed by such a vision?

The Response                                                  Psalm 2

Psalm 2 may have been written for the dedication or rededication of a king of Israel: announcing a ruler as son of God was common in the Middle East, as is depicting one’s national god as more powerful than the gods of other nations. Might it be that God’s scorn is reserved for those who believe that they are in charge?

The Epistle                                                                        2 Peter 1:16-21

Peter of Galilee went up a mountain on a hike with friends—and saw his teacher revealed as God’s own Son. The second letter of Peter, almost certainly composed in Peter’s name rather than by the apostle himself, retells the story to confirm that it is no myth but rather a lamp leading us to the Light.

The Gospel                                                                       Matthew 17:1-9

The gospel tells the story to which the day’s epistle alludes: Jesus is revealed as the Son of God by being both transformed and acclaimed—but only for a little while, and he hushes it up.

 

Ponderables

An epiphany is a revelation, and the last Sunday of Epiphany brings us more than one.

The Old Testament epiphanies are grand, obvious, and enduring. Exodus reveals God in mountain-enveloping cloud and “devouring fire”—the sort of conflagration from which residents of tinder-dry Southern California flee in terror. Psalm 2 shows God easily angered and dictating terms to rulers who have presumed to challenge either the rule of God or the rule of God’s representative.

The New Testament epiphany, retold in 1 Peter, shares some features with the Old Testament epiphanies: as in the psalm, Jesus is recognized as God’s own son; as in Exodus, Moses is present, though here it is not Moses but Jesus whose appearance is transformed; as in both Exodus and the psalm, God’s people are awestruck to the point of terror. But where Moses the prophet took advantage of that terror in ruling God’s people, Jesus doesn’t. To quote the Christmas carol, “mild he lays his glory by” to be born to and among us; he orders the disciples not to make a big issue of who he is and what he does; and he keeps laying his glory and pride aside as he deals with nearly all degrees and conditions of people, from those terrified, sick, or outcast up through the most powerful religious and political figures in Palestine. This is a far cry from announcing whose sin has invoked this plague or that natural disaster or demanding the legal right to refuse service.

So what if truly following God means not flaunting God?

For March 30, 2013: the Great Vigil of Easter, Year C

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD: God acts to create and restore the world

The story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

Salvation offered freely to all: 
Isaiah 55:1-11

The Response: Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)

The valley of dry bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. The first epistle we read in Easter rings out our joy, as Isaiah puts it, but it also looks back to the suffering that has freed us from sin.

The Response            Psalm 114

The Gospel            Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

 

Further thoughts

People in Jesus’ place and time had a pretty good idea what death looked like, what with infant mortality, childhood and adult diseases, death in childbirth, farming accidents, the various ailments associated with old age, and the occasional murders, executions and suicides. Adult women, in particular, knew well what they were supposed to do about it: wash the body (especially if there were blood), treat it with spices against stench, dress it, and straighten the mangled or emaciated limbs in preparation for burial.

They were clearly quite unprepared, however, for the idea of rising from death.

We postmillenials have the advantage of two thousand years of exposure to the idea through scripture, analysis, sermons, and old-fashioned hindsight, but it’s not clear to me that we are really any better prepared for the reality of resurrection than were Jesus’ grieving friends. It’s hard to imagine being resurrected to anything but a life like the one that we now lead, with its dishes to wash and its bills to pay. That’s unsurprising, of course: this is the life we know.

It’s the case, however, that many people who have undergone a near-death experience live differently, at least for a while. They wash the dishes and pay the bills, but—like Scrooge at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—they live more in the moment, and they are much more mindful of the wonder of the world around them and the people in it.

And we who still stand on this side of the grave—what if we are called to do likewise?

For March 28, 2013: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

According to the instructions in the book of Exodus, the first Passover meal is to be eaten in haste by people who are packed to flee from a plague. Our ritual meals generally look far different—family gatherings amid the silver and the best china for rejoicing that can last for hours—but in this life, we are all in haste.

The Response            Psalm 116:1, 10-17

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Writing to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth, Paul echoes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: the bread and wine are not just things to eat and drink but signs of the new covenant that Jesus made with his own body and blood. These are our words of institution at the Eucharist, of course.

The Gospel            John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Son of God teaches us the truest way to be God: love and serve.

 

Further thoughts

The lections for Maundy Thursday juxtapose two meals with great significance in the evolution of the relationship between God and humanity.

On the one hand, there is the first Passover with its carefully laid out specifications: a yearling male sheep or goat, slaughtered at twilight, roasted whole, eaten in haste with the quick-cooking unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the lamb’s blood painted around the door to shield the Israelites from the shattering plague—death of every first-born in Egypt—through which God would effect their liberation from Egypt. The point of the roasting is that the creature is a ritual sacrifice. This first Passover meal is commemorated by observant Jews every year as the Passover Seder, though lamb is rarely the centerpiece; the reason for this is that ritual sacrifice can only happen in the Temple—which was demolished in 70 AD and has not been rebuilt. The modern Passover Seder thus commemorates the sacrifice without actually being the sacrifice, and it serves to help humans remember God’s mighty acts on their behalf.

On the other hand, there is the first Maundy Thursday meal. It is not the Passover meal, but rather a meal of the night before, and it may be remarkable as much for what does not happen as for what does happen: nothing is slaughtered; nothing is obligatory for the menu; no elaborate preparations are required. Instead, Jesus takes the sort of stuff we eat all the time anyway and serves it forth with his love in a way that makes it stand for all time for his own sacrifice of himself for us. Of course it is the prototype for our Eucharist. The word “eucharist” is most often analyzed as coming from Greek eucharistos ‘thankful’, though it’s worth noting that the Greek root charis– shares with the Latin root grati– the property of denoting either ‘thanks’ (gratitude) or ‘gift’ (grace).

That we have turned the simple meal into a ritual is unsurprising. As with the Seder, the ritual and elaboration help us remember by calling us mindfully to commemorate God’s mighty acts on our behalf, and this is a good thing. Many of us also say grace with more everyday meals, and that is also good and right. But what if we were to think of each ordinary meal—each ordinary act—also as a reminder to pay back by paying grace forward in Christ’s love to all to whom we are called to be neighbors?

For March 3, 2013: 3 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Exodus 3:1-15

The Israelites were led to Egypt by God to escape famine, but then were enslaved. In today’s reading, we see their redemption begin, through a Jew with an Egyptian name, an adopted son of Pharaoh who has fled a murder rap and fallen into the lowliness and anonymity of a back-country sheepherder. God’s grace extends everywhere, even to those who try to dodge God’s call.

The Response            Psalm 63:1-8

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Corinth, on the isthmus between the Aegean and Adriatic seas in Greece, was a thriving port in Roman times—and a hotbed of temptations for the sailor. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us of the abundance of God’s grace in Exodus in order to remind us to honor that grace by living disciplined lives.

The Gospel            Luke 13:1-9

 

Further thoughts

San Diego has been a Navy town for well over a century, and for most of that time the Stingaree was the area south of Broadway in which sailors on liberty were routinely tattooed, fleeced, intoxicated, infected, and more. The tattoo parlors, brothels, flophouses, opium dens, and gambling halls were finally swept away in the 1980s, when urban renewal brought Jon Jerde’s trend-setting Horton Plaza mall amid restored Gay Nineties facades and retro streetlights, and a new name: the Gaslamp. The old name lives on—in a bar that is as genteel and pricey as the old district was rough and cheap.

Today’s readings invoke names and reputations. The grubby shepherd on the flanks of Mount Horeb is a man on the lam, a Jew with a patrician Egyptian name and a rap sheet; he has trained himself to keep his head down, but somehow he just can’t resist that burning bush. His opposite number, Saul of Tarsus, was the Jew’s Jew, righteous about his righteousness, until Jesus knocked him off his high horse and into service to the Gentiles as Paul. And Jesus invokes familiar groups to remind his listeners—and us, in these times of storm, tsunami and sequestration—that bad things can happen to good people and that there truly is a fate worse than death.

Then there is the name of God. הוהי in Hebrew, transliterated YHWH, comes from the puzzling phrase in Exodus 3:14 that the reading gives as “I AM Who I AM”.  YHWH in Judaism is so holy that it is never pronounced; instead it is called “the Name” or the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”), or Hebrew uses another title from Exodus 3:15, Adonai ‘LORD’. Scholars differ as to how exactly to translate YHWH, though ‘HE Who IS’ works. As to the longer phrase, it could as well be rendered “I WILL BE Who I AM”, reflecting God’s unchanging nature, or “I WILL BE Who I WILL BE”, showing God’s willingness to do what it takes to save us, and the truth probably includes both and much, much more.

As to the fate worse than death, it is clearly not the fact of ceasing to breathe, or else Paul would not have contemplated his own demise so calmly. I think then that it must be, to paraphrase the words of one of our post-Communion prayers, failure to do the work God has given us to do to heal and hallow God’s world.


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