Psalm 43; Exodus 38; Matthew 27:45-56

Psalm 43  Alter notes that given the abrupt beginning of this psalm (“Grant me justice, O God,”) and that the several lines are virtually identical, Psalm 42 and 43 may have once been a single psalm.  Be that as it may, these verses are certainly darker than those in the preceding psalm.  The psalmist asks rhetorically, “For You, O God, my stronghold, why should You neglect me? Why should I go in gloom, pressed by the foe?”(2)  While this is not a direct accusation that God has abandoned him, it comes very close.

The psalmist then moves to supplication, “Send forth Your light and Your truth. It is they that will guide me.” (3)  “Guide” is an appropriate verb because the psalmist–apparently in exile or a foreign land– now traces out his desire to come to “Your holy mountain And to Your dwelling place,” which would be Jerusalem, I presume.  Once there, he seeks further guidance to “let me come to God’s altar,” (4) and then directly to God Himself, “to God my keenest joy.”

Like the journey itself, the psalm ascends from the depths of seeming abandonment directly into the presence of God, where almost ecstatic joy replaces gloom: “And let me acclaim You with the lyre, O God, my God.”  The psalm ends on the same theme as Psalm 42:  “Hope in God, for yet will I acclaim Him, His rescuing presence and my God.” (5)  In just a few verses, our psalmist has taken a spiritual journey form the depths of despair to worshipful joy atop the mountain.

And that is our journey too.  Not just once in our lives, but again and again.  Because movement is the very nature of prayer. Prayer is not idle contemplation; it is a journey, it is dynamic; its bias is to action.

When I contemplate a material, God-denying life, I realize how flat that journey would be.  Having rejected God, I would be trapped in emptiness, and there would be no reason other than self-motivation to ascend.  But self-actualization (to be Maslovian about it) is insufficient.  Because in the end, we find nothing but ourselves at the mountaintop.  No wonder the therapeutic industry is so vast.

Exodus 38  Now Bezalel constructs the seriously large “burnt-offering altar of acacia wood, five cubits its length and five cubits its width, square, and three cubits its height.” (1) as well as the bronze laver and the exterior textile walls 100 cubits by 50 cubits; the posts, the sockets, the hooks.  All limned in precise and loving detail.

Our author concludes with an accounting of capital expenditures, ” All the gold that was fashioned for the task in every task of the sanctuary, the elevation-offering gold was twenty-nine talents…And the silver reckoned from the community was a hundred talents…” (24, 25)  We also learn that both a freewill offering and a tax are the income sources.  The tax is also a way of taking a census.

So, again, precision, exactitude, accounting.  When Jesus talks about God knowing the number of hairs on our head, he is speaking out of this longstanding precision–another proof that there is nothing random about God or His creation.  This exactitude of course underlays all biology in our genes and DNA, as well as physics, as you can discover in any book about quantum physics at one end of magnitude and astrophysics at the other end.  More proof for me, anyway, that God is hardly an abstract spirit, but a builder and Creator–and he expects the same attention to detail from us.

 Matthew 27:45-56  In Matthew, the only words that Jesus speaks on the cross is the opening line of Psalm 22.  Which some witnesses interpret as a call for Elijah to come rescue him. Why Elijah?  Perhaps because Elijah was taken directly to heaven and did not die, the bystanders assume this is Jesus’ request as well–which would certainly prove Jesus’ kinship with God.  But Elijah does not call, Jesus screams in a final spasm of agony and dies.  But that is hardly the end.

To Matthew’s Jewish readers, what happens next is extraordinary indeed.  The Temple curtain is ripped in two, exposing the Holy of Holies to everyone.  Certainly symbolic of the passing of the Old Covenant.  And the bodies of the saints not only arise, but wander around Jerusalem, seen by many.  We don’t talk very much about this detail at Easter, but it must certainly be a presaging of the Day of the Lord when the dead will rise.  For many Jews, who did not believe in resurrection, this had to be an almost earth-shattering event.

But Matthew does not record the reactions of the Jews to these extraordinary events.  Only the Roman centurion speaks, “Truly this man was God’s son.”  And it is the realization of the gentile soldier that makes Matthew’s key point–and a point that has been made many time in the Hebrew scriptures, but Jews of Jesus’ time tended to forget:.  God is not the exclusive domain of the Jews; God, through Jesus Christ, is for every man and woman in creation.  The old order has passed away; the new order has begun.  Right here on Good Friday.  Which is one more reason why Sunday cannot really be celebrated without Friday in mind.

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