Psalm 44:17-26; Exodus 40:24-Leviticus 1:17; Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 44:17-26  This accusatory psalm reminds God that while He has apparently forgotten his people, they have not forgotten Him: “yet we did not forget You, and we did not betray Your pact.” (18) and then to emphasize the point, repeats the assertion of their own faithfulness: “Our heart has not failed, nor have our footsteps strayed from Your path,” (19) even though “You thrust us down to the sea monster’s place.”

Then, in a classic bout of defensiveness, the psalmist states that had they neglected God, God would surely have known it and responded, “Had we forgotten the name of God  and spread out our palms to an alien god, would not God have fathomed it?” (20)  As things stand now, “we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.”  The intense despair of this psalm certainly suggests that the images of slaughtered sheep are not mere metaphors, but the defeat of an actual battle.

How often we cry out in times of trouble, “where are You, God?” And this psalm informs us that we can indeed be angry and cry out in despair.  We do not have to pretend as good little Christians that we love God and that it’s a sin when we are angry with Him or have become convinced that he has deserted us for good.  To be sure, God loves us, God is constant, but there are times in our lives when “our neck is bowed to the dust, our belly clings to the ground.” (25) and God simply doesn’t show up.  We have every right to be angry with the Creator of the universe.

But crucially, even in their despair, there is a final plea: “Rise as a help to us  and redeem us for the sake of Your kindness.” (27)  They have not given up.  Underneath the anger and despair there is the hint of assurance that they know God will eventually show up.  And neither should we reject God altogether in these times of darkness when all seems lost.

 Exodus 40:24-Leviticus 1:17  The Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting, as Alter calls it) is finally complete and assembled.  And God sees that it is good and comes to dwell there.  After the wanderings thus far, where God sort of hovers over the Israelites as a cloud or pillar of fire, God finally has a residence, and “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD  filled the Tabernacle.  God’s glory was so intense that “Moses could not come into the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud abode upon it and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle”. (35)  I think there is great significance here that God has come down form his remoteness on Mt. Sinai to dwell amongst the people. God has moved from distance abstraction to daily presence.

This remarkable book of a remarkable escape and journey has been guided by God the whole time.  And it ends by reminding Israel–and us– that God is present, before the eyes of all the house of Israel in all their journeyings.” (38)  We may not have the visual evidence of God that the Israelites had, but that does not make God any less present in our own lives.

The authors of the Torah leave Israel with all eyes on God as they suspend the story of the journey in the wilderness with the interregnum that is the book of Leviticus, which is basically unencumbered by any narrative detail at all.  Now ensconced in the Tabernacle, God once again speaks to Moses, ” saying, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them…” (2)  And there follows the almost endless detail of precisely how the sacrifices are to be made.

We know that sacrifices are offered as propitiation for the people’s sins.  But this chapter ends on a tantalizing sensory note.  The sacrifices are “a fire offering, a fragrant odor to the LORD.” (1:17).  We know God sees and hears us, but here, we are reminded that God possesses all the senses we do. And that what we do for God includes acts that God not only sees and hears, but that should be “a fragrant odor to the Lord.”

Mark 1:1-8  Mark is the Gospel’s journalist and again and again, in this shortest gospel, he reminds us in his spare language that there is no time to wast.  Just the facts please.  And then only the facts that read directly to his opening sentence, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like John, Mark tells us there was a beginning, but there’s no theological exegesis about Jesus being the Word.  No birth story, no genealogies, no wise men, no Mary or Joseph.

For John, Jesus’ birth or his theological connection to God and the Word is irrelevant.  This book is about what Jesus did and said.  And for Mark, that is evidence enough.

John the Baptist has shown up in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  And a mere seven verses into the story, John is ready to remove himself form the stage because “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (7)  This introductory paragraph, and John himself are about one thing only: preparation.  Preparation for the one “coming after me,” but also preparation for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

The stage is set…

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