I am going to make a bold leap and an outrageous statement: reading the last half of the Book of Exodus (chapters 21-40) feels a little like living in the United States for the last 5-10 years — post 9/11. Here’s what I mean: a big dramatic event took place that completely shook the foundations of life as it has been known and lived by this and the last few generations. We are still coming to grips with what it means to live in a time when so many things are unknown and/or unstable. With this instability, new laws and rules for living are emerging and fluid. Relationships with others are strained and difficult to manage as expectations are unclear and there is an inherent lack of trust. Thus, many people feel anxiety today and fear the future because they don’t yet see a clear path to the future.
When the Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and escaped the oncoming army, they found themselves wandering in the wilderness — without a home, without the comfort of the usual routines life offers, and without the restrictions they once had. Now, they are free to live as a community without the old rules from the Egyptians. They were free to set up their own rules to live by and structures to govern themselves. God gave them the 10 Words, but there needed to be some detail in how those 10 overarching Words were to be lived. Thus, the Covenant Code of chapters 20-23 are given with a ceremony to ratify the Covenant between God and the Israelites (chapter 24).
Then chapters 25-31 establish the Tabernacle, its architecture and ceremonial significance to the people and to God. While it’s not the most exciting read in the Bible, establishing rules and rituals for worshiping God emphasizes the need for discipline and preparation before coming into the presence of God. For a moment, think about the rules and discipline needed to worship God in Exodus and our attitudes and preparations for worshiping God on Sunday mornings. What would be different in your Sunday morning experience if you maintained the discipline called for in Exodus? What would be the same? Also, what about the patterns for worship and the systems of the Church (not just First Christian or the Disciples, but all of Christianity) might be different if we paid closer attention to Tabernacle worship? What is still consistent?
After the people panic by building the golden calf and order is somewhat restored to the community in chapter 32, check out Exodus 33:12-25. After all God has done and shown Moses, he still has the audacity to ask God to give him more evidence to convince the people! What ensures gives a beautiful image of God’s mystery, “you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” How appropriate is the elusiveness of this image for our faith? How do you experience the closeness and the mystery of God?
In chapter 34, the tablets containing the 10 Commandments (34:28 refers to these as commandments instead of “Words” from 20:1) are rewritten (because in Moses’ anger in 32:19) and the covenant between God and the Israelites is renewed. Then, the Tabernacle is built in accordance with the instructions given previously. The people of Israel journey through the wilderness following God’s presence — the cloud by day and fire by night. Wherever they went, they carried the tabernacle — a portable sanctuary for the worship of God. Today, we have permanent buildings for the worship of God. There is not a cloud pillar or fire to follow on our journey. I wonder sometimes, have we lost our way? How will we know if we have found our way back to God’s presence?
So, back to that feeling of living today: I believe we are still finding our way in a reality that is only 15 years old. It will take time for us to shake out these new rules and ways of relating to each other. The story of the ancient Israelites in this week’s readings tell us the story of how they followed God’s leading in those difficult times. Again, I wonder, how will we find our way today, through this election cycle, and into the next phase of our living and being? May you find some clues in Exodus for individual living and living in community with others.