Psalm 44:1-8; Exodus 39:1-31; Matthew 27:57-66

Psalm 44:1-8   This psalm of praise acknowledges what this secular age would greet with incredulity: that it is not humankind but God  whose “hand dispossessed nations—and You planted them. You smashed peoples and sent them away.” (2)  The poet further claims, “For not by their sword they took hold of the land, and it was not their arm that made them victorious but Your right hand and Your arm, and the light of Your face when You favored them.” (3,4).

This does not seem very far from “God is on our side” kind of thinking.  But when we examine the words more closely, that is not what the psalmist is saying at all.  When we say “God is on our side,” we are in effect saying that God is assisting us in our quest for victory. “Nice to have you along with us, God, now please deliver that victory we have in mind.”  Rather, here, whatever victory that has been achieved has been done though human beings acting as God’s agents, “For not in my bow do I trust, and my sword will not make me victorious.” (6)  In the end, it is God who “rescued us from our foes, and our enemies You put to shame.” Not us.

We can grasp this truth not on the battlefield but in everyday life.  We do not place our trust in our own gifts, skills, or tools, but we place our trust in God, who then uses our gifts, skills, tools to carry out the task at hand.  When we fully place our trust in God, we are not asking God to be our aide de camp (to continue the military metaphor), but exactly the opposite.  Of course, as the psalmist acknowledges, that means not only admitting that we need to let go, but to actually relinquish control.  Easier said than done…

Exodus 39:1-31  Another chapter of lovingly detailed description of what was made for the Tabernacle.  This time the priestly garments and the breastplate that goes atop the robes.  Twelve stones in four rows of precious stones on the breastplate, representing the twelve tribes.  And my favorite detail, “the hem of the robe all around, within the pomegranates. A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and 26 a pomegranate on the hem of the robe all around, to serve, as the LORD had charged Moses.” (25, 26).  The phrase, “as the LORD had charged Moses” is repeated, reminding us that all this was not something Moses, Aaron, or anyone else made up, but that it was God-specified.  This is at the heart of the Old Covenant: that the one chosen priest, who comes before God in the Holy of Holies is dressed in the finest garment imaginable.  Because to come before God is no casual affair.

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of what we read here in Exodus with Matthew’s description of Jesus’ crucifixion: that he was stripped of all his clothing and what little he had was gambled away at the foot of the cross.  How different our High Priest of the New Covenant: stripped naked, hanging on a cross. And yet, Jesus comes before God in a manner inconceivable to Caiaphas, the high priest, who surely wore a priestly garment not unlike the one described here in Exodus.

Matthew 27:57-66  As Jesus is brought down from the cross, we are reminded that Jesus had many followers besides the Twelve (now Eleven).  Unlike the unnamed disciple who lent Jesus the Upper Room, Joseph, the “rich man form Arimathea” gets to go down in history.  But he appears on the stage only briefly.  His last recorded act is he “rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.”  (Hadn’t noticed before that it is Jospeh of A. that places the stone in front of the tomb, not the Romans or the Jews.)

Ever the masters of selective memory, “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” (62, 63)  I wonder exactly when it was that after having successfully killed off the man who would upset the status quo ante, it occurred to them that he was still a threat.  And an even bigger threat dead than alive such that “the last deception would be worse than the first.” (64).

Thus it ever has been: no matter how hard subsequent rulers have tried to suppress the Jesus, the stone in front of the grave is always insufficient.  Jesus always surfaces again.  Indeed, “the last deception” has  changed history.  Which is why even in this American culture of “tolerance” where the current crop of cultural Pharisees attempts to define what “tolerable” and what is not (that being most things having to do with “outmoded” religious faith and scruples that go against the received wisdom–sound familiar?), Jesus will always surface.   It is indeed Friday in our culture–and becoming more so–but in the end, “the last deception” always turns out to be the Truth of Sunday.


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