Psalm 44:9-16; Exodus 39:32-40:23; Matthew 28:1-20

Psalm 44:9-16  There is an abrupt shift from praise [“God we praise all day long, and Your name we acclaim for all time.” (8)] to abandonment and shame caused by God’s failure to appear in the next verse: “Yet You neglected and disgraced us 10 and did not sally forth in our ranks.” (9). We marketers have a difficult time with this juxtaposition. Praise one minute, anger the next. This is not how you are supposed to appease and please God, is it?

Yet, the accusations against God continue. His neglect has resulted in a poor outcome in battle “You turned us back from the foe, and our enemies took their plunder.” (10) God, not the enemy, is the one who devalued them:”You sold Your people for no wealth and set no high price upon them.” (12) And in that culture, the worst thing of all: “You made us a shame to our neighbors, derision and mockery to those round us.” (13). The psalmist takes this personally: “All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face,” (15)

What are we to make of this? It’s one thing to be angry with God, but to accuse God of neglect desertion, and creating personal shame?  How easily we forget that God is God.  He can take it. He knows the truth, and above all, he knows our deepest feelings.  Especially when our despair is as deep as the psalmist’s.  We do not have to be placid Sunday school children before God; we can be angry, defeated, shamed, despairing warriors as well.  This is what makes the Psalms the ur-text of  every prayer since then: brutal honesty before God, not fawning hypocrisy.  Too bad I forget that so often.  Of course Jesus recognized the very same thing when he compared the prayer of the Pharisee to that of the publican.

Exodus 39:32-40:23  Our author cannot cease writing about the glories of the Tabernacle, the Ark, the furnishings, the vestments, and here he recapitulates the inventory one more time.  Alter captures an almost musical quality with the repeated “its” before each item: “the Tent and all its furnishings, its clasps, its boards, its crossbars, and its posts and its sockets,…” (34)

But even more important than the glories of the inventory is how the people have obeyed God’s instructions down to the letter, “…thus the Israelites did all the work. And Moses saw all the tasks, and, look, they had done it as the LORD had charged, thus they had done it, and Moses blessed them.” (42, 43)

We don’t hear much these days about the theology of vocation, which I have always considered to be one of the high points of Lutheran theology.  But here it is: the people are not priests, they are workers, and they have crafted a work to the glory of God.  I have to believe this passage was read form time to time during the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

If I were writing subsection titles for this part f Exodus, the first part of this final chapter would be headed, “Some assembly required.”  God’s instructions to Moses are quite precise about where the furnishings and drapery of the Tabernacle are to be placed.  (It also reminds me of the little models of the Tabernacle we 5th graders made back in Sunday School at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena so many years ago.)

Matthew 28:1-20  Like Matthew himself, the Moravians do not linger over post-Resurrection details, as our Gospel writer wraps up the most astounding event in history with his usual economy, almost terseness.  One event, which I think is exclusive to Matthew, is the recounting of how the priests and religious officials bribed the guards to spread the Big Lie, that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.  Which theory continues to surface even today.  (I remember a book in the 1970’s about this, and Wikipedia even includes an entry, “the stolen body hypothesis.)

Matthew, with his Jewish perspective writing to a Jewish community, ends the story of Jesus’ interaction with Judaism on this distinctly conspiratorial note with, “And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” (15)  The tragedy of course, is that Matthew’s words have been at least partly catalytic in the church’s persecution of the Jews over history.  But that is not Matthew’ fault.  It is ours.

Matthew’s story ends with Jesus’ famous commissioning.  (And doesn’t even mention the Ascension.)  And that is why I think he wrote his Gospel in the first place.  It’s so much more than the “greatest story ever told.”  It’s an instruction manual of how to carry out the Great Commission.  And Jesus’ final words are his (and God’s) Greatest Promise to us: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  May we never ever forget that sublime truth.


Speak Your Mind