Face-timing God’s Way
Thoughts on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Exodus 33: 22-23
God said to Moses, “When my glory passes I will set you in the hollow of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. ….(Y)ou may see my back; but my face is not to be seen.”
Let’s take a look at the relationship between Moses and God as an allegory – as in imagery that speaks strongly of the human condition and its connection to the divine. Rather than a discussion on a literalism of historical events let’s consider the meaning we can glean from an ancient and well-treasured story. After all, what you and I read, especially when it’s Scripture, is always interpretation. We acknowledge this because experience and reflection are the primary resources of faith. Scripture is, in the sense of a guide for faith, a secondary resource.
Keeping this in mind we see in the Book of Exodus many signs and wonders performed by Moses: a staff taps a rock and water flows out; a stick thrown down becomes a snake; water spilled to the ground becomes blood. But signs and wonders become in the skeptic’s eye mere conjuring tricks, the stuff of magicians.
Exodus also speaks often enough of the vengeful God. So much so that we read there of places in our imagination that tell of a God who does not suffer disobedience or disrespect. Too much surface, in my view, has been passed along that covers a kind of divine messaging that says, “If you don’t do what I command then terrible things will fall upon you.” I say this is surface messaging because it seems senseless to me, and maybe also to you, that I should spend my lifetime fearful of the God who looks for every opportunity to punish me.
And then there’s the story of the many occasions when Moses and God converse. It just doesn’t seem worth it to interpret this relationship as one founded on fear. The attraction for me, as well as the truth, of the Exodus story is the promise of freedom, of entering New Life. The God to whom I am attracted is glorious and loving. At its root the friendship between Moses and God is this bond of freedom, glory, of love and promises kept.
This bond is marked by the one thing Moses wanted above all else. He wanted to see God’s face. As the story goes such an encounter would be for Moses the ultimate sign of unity with God. In this desire Moses is every person who desires to be one with God.
But even Moses did not experience this. He could stand in God’s presence and gain knowledge of Yahweh, I AM who hears the pleas of the people and who gathers them under wing. But this last thing, this ultimate sign was not to be realized. Read again this passage of Exodus 33:18-23. You see in it Moses’ one last attempt to convince God that a face-to-face encounter would establish ultimate knowledge and absolute conviction for Moses. It would, in turn, become a possibility for all the people.
What does Moses get? He gets a view of the back side of God. The trace of God’s glory, the wake of imagination is what Moses gets.
Now, does this story tell of actual events? Here we are some 3200-3400 years later and are we obliged to understand the literal occurrence of these events? I would say no. I would also go so far as to say that this question of literalism is misguided.
In the retelling of this story in this Lenten season it is the interpretation of the desire of every person that matters. I choose, I think for good reason, to interpret this story in this way.
You and I in our search for God all too often find ourselves in the same place as Moses, don’t you think?. Wouldn’t it be great to have that direct face-to-face encounter with God. Wouldn’t all things be finally clear basking in the glow of divine glory? Wouldn’t the promise be then fulfilled in this full embrace of the love of God?
But remember, even Moses, this figure of complete closeness to the divine, had no such experience because the experience of every person is to explore the trace elements of God’s presence in our everyday life. The lesson of this story returns us to face-to-face with each other. Look for God in the love we share, the care we show, and the promises we keep.
We began our Service this morning with Communal Reconciliation. By the simple gesture of facing each other and speaking the words, “I forgive you,” we lay claim to sacramental grace. In this we learn the lesson of Moses that if we are to seek the face of God then we must look no further than to each other. On this Lenten way to Easter we give each other the priestly blessing of absolution – a true realization of this royal priesthood that we are.
We imagine your sacred glory on this Lenten journey, O God. We, like Moses, long to see your face which is your presence among us. By prayer and actions of charity and justice we join our claim of reconciliation with each other and all others.
Keep our hearts and lives joined in Christ, our Messiah and Anointed One – today and every day. We look forward to Easter joy blessed by your raising us to New Life. Amen.