Psalm 39:1-6; Exodus 30:17-31:11; Matthew 26:31-35

Good Friday

Psalm 39:1-6: This David psalm opens with the the usual phrases associated with a psalm of supplication. The psalmist informs us, “I thought, ‘Let me keep my ways from offending my my tongue./ Let me keep a muzzle on my mouth/ as long as the wicked is before me.’” (1). The poet is wise not say say things to his enemies that he might regret.

But there’s a twist. this psalm is a meditation. The next verse makes it clear that words are not being spoken but interior thoughts remain just as passionate as any words uttered aloud: “I was mute—in silence./ I keep still deprived of good and my pain was grievous.” (3) In other words, he has elected to suffer in silence in front of his enemies—and we assume, his friends.

But his feelings are so strong and passionate—”My heart was hot within me./ In my thoughts a fire burned. (4a)—that “I spoke with my tongue:” (4b). And he speaks to the only one he knows may be listening: God. He breaks his silence and prays aloud, but the prayer is far more philosophical than we would expect from a man in desperate circumstances: “Let me know, O Lord, my end/ and what is the measure of my days.” (5) Are his traits so desperate that he is asking God how much longer he must suffer? Or is there something deeper going on here?

Verse 6 reveals the philosophical depth of the poem as the poet makes a statement we would be much more likely to read in Ecclesiastes: “Look, mere handspans You made my days,/ and my lot is nothing before You./ Mere breath is each man standing.” We suddenly see the deep existential angst. What is the point of suffering, anyway, our poet seems to be asking. God is of little help here. Rather, God is remote, silent, and benignly indifferent to this man, whose being is mere ephemerality, anyway.

That life is fleeting and ultimately pointless before an indifferent God is a feeling any person who honestly asks these profound questions must confront. Particularly when there is only silence. Jesus must have felt this same abandonment and ephemerality on the cross. At some point in his suffering he must have felt that his life was pointless and as his famous cry from Psalm 22 reminds us, that he had been abandoned altogether: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Exodus 30:17-31:11: Since the Tabernacle is a holy place, it is crucial that any priest coming to offer obeisance to God must be both ritually and physically clean. Hence the “bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing.” (31:18) Washing is not just a casual act: “they shall wash with water, so that they may not die.” (20). And to make sure everyone got the point, God repeats himself in the next verse in exactly the same phrase: “They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die.” (21)

This proto-baptism at theTabernacle is a stark reminder to us that we have been washed by God through Jesus Christ once and for all. This is what our baptism represents, and like the instructions here it is a profoundly serious act. Which is doubtless why some Christian denominations believe that baptism must be a conscious decision on the part of the individual and that infants cannot make that decision—hence the “age of accountability.”

God—as cosmic chemist—now reveals the formula for the anointing oils consisting of precise measures of myrrh [Aha! we’ll encounter myrrh later.], cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia—all mixed together with olive oil. Again, God reminds Moses that this is no ordinary oil, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations.” and it is forbidden to be made or used for any other purpose. Once again we are reminded that “holy” means set apart for God.

So, too, the incense consisting of “sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense…an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.” (35). I’m struck by the salt. Jesus is the one who reminds us that we are to be the salt of the earth, and here we see that salt is an element of a substance that is holy and set apart. So, too, are we.

With all these plans and precise instructions in hand, God announces that he has chosen specific people to do the actual work of creation, who he has “filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft.” (31:3) So when we speak of a God-given talent, we have biblical confirmation right here!  To supervise the “artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft.” (4,5), God has chosen a certain Bezalel. To lead the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, including the ARk, he has chosen Oholiab.

Here in Exodus, we see that God imbues us with certain talents, which like the Parable of the Talents that Jesus tells, means we are to put them to work for God, not hide them in the ground. This passage also reminds us that the ability to create and craft handiwork is a reflection of God’s own magnificent acts of creation. In short we are to exercise the fact that we are created imago deo with our own gifts and talents.

Matthew 26:31-35: Jesus announces to his seemingly loyal disciples, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (31)

Could there be any more depressing announcement to men who had followed him loyally for three years? The disciples had to be thinking, does Jesus think so little of us that he predicts that we’ll desert him? Really! That’s impossible! Never happen!

As usual, Peter expresses the emotion of both himself and the others as he exclaims,“Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” (33). Jesus of course responds with his famous retort that Peter will deny him not once but three times. Peter objects even more vociferously, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (35) And lest we be tempted to blame only Peter, Matthew makes it clear that “so said all the disciples.” (35b)  Our high-faluting intentions are always so much grander than our cowardly actions.

But something I’d never noticed before is that  right in the middle of all this Jesus clearly states the coming reality of his resurrection: “But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (32). But the disciples are so busy being  offended about Jesus’ accusation of them of being deserters that some of the most important news of that last night is not even heard, much less responded to. It’s Friday and we don’t even hear that Sunday is coming.

Which of course is exactly like me. I am so offended at being told something that is true but I don’t like that I miss the greater, more important story: that Jesus loves me and that he will “meet us in Galilee.”

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