Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, April 02, 2005

'Twas the Night Before Setup

Daily Readings
Psalm 52 + Exodus 39 + Leviticus 19 + Matthew 8

Verse for the Day
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18

Daily Text Exodus 39:32-33a, 42, 43
32 In this way all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished; the Israelites had done everything just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33Then they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its utensils….42The Israelites had done all of the work just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 43When Moses saw that they had done all the work just as the LORD had commanded, he blessed them.

‘Twas the Night Before Setup
Moses has heard God’s command, has relayed it to the people and finally they have followed the command. Chapter 39 is the second repetition, the third time these words have been written. Each repetition is more beautiful than the previous, though faithful to the original. One thinks of the detail of gold leaf being hammered out and cut into threads for Aaron’s vestments in verse 2 or the description of the opening of the robe of the ephod in verses 23 and 23, the golden rosette of the holy diadem inscribed with the words, ‘Holy to the LORD” in verse 30 and the description of the placement of the tinkling gold bells and the blue, purple and crimson pomegranates on the lower hem of Aaron’s robe, “a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate all around on the lower hem of the robe for ministering; as the LORD had commanded Moses [verse 26]. These are images of beauty and grace fitting for the worship of the God of the whole world.

“In this way all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished. And then there must have been a proud and very lengthy procession as the workmen and the priests brought the elements of the tabernacle to Moses. These elements, including the structural elements, the fabric, the vestments, the menorah, the mercy seat and all of the utensils needed, they brought to Moses, and he seeing that they had done all that had been commanded, blessed them. Remember the mark of the prophet at the time of the patriarch’s? The prophet is one who prays, but prayer is a blessing and it is the peculiar prayer of the priest. So here Moses is both priest and prophet to his people.

Here too is a progression from a holy God met on the mountain, to his mouthpiece, Moses, to the Tabernacle that has space where God dwells. This God is no longer simply the God of Sinai, but a God who dwells with a particular people and moves with them in this movable tabernacle. We might see a hint of creation here: as God created the world, so Moses and the people have created this tabernacle a world unto itself—with all the accoutrements of an active world view. Moses surveys all that has been done and it is good and he blesses those who have created it.

The Tabernacle
by Rose Emma Collins
(Leviticus xxxiii., 33-43)

Let us build to the Lord of the earth in each place
The Tent, which His glorious presence will grace.
‘Twill be hallowed with light that descends from on high,
Where the prayers and the praises are heard thro’ the sky.
‘Tis the time when the beauty of earth is fulfilled,
And the stars all look down on the Tent that we build;
When the moon in her robing of silver attire,
Approaches in silence, the sun’s crimson fire!
All the splendour of heaven, the beauties of earth,
Exult in the love that has given them birth!
The boughs of thick trees with their leaves all entwine,
Round the delicate stems of the Myrtle and Vine;
The Palm trees are clasping the Willows with joy,
A rapture that death cannot change or destroy;
Each tree that was bearing its fruit o’er the land,
Owes renewal of life, to the One mighty hand!
Its exquisite beauty enchanting our sight,
One thought has created, for taste and delight.
Choice flowers in manifold colours and scent,
Adorn the frail walls of the gorgeous built tent;
Where “showers of blessing” from promise divine,
Replete with His mandates, eternally shine!
Now twilight glides gently o’er trees, fruit and flower;
And fragrant the breath of the exquisite bower.
The lamps that were burning, are fast growing dim,
While angels have enter’d, and chant a soft hymn;
‘Tis the music of heaven! their voices ascending,
In tones most celestial, with praises are blending.
The trees are all trembling with joy, and the Rose
Has awaken’d to see where the angels respose;
But they folded their wings all impervious thro’ night,
And vanish’d ere dawn spread her roseate light!
403:296

Building Around the Center

Daily Readings
Psalm 51+ Exodus 38+ Leviticus 18+ Matthew 7

Verse for the Day
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Daily Text Exodus 38:21-29
21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the covenant, which were drawn up at the commandment of Moses, the work of the Levites being under the direction of Ithamar son of the priest Aaron. 22Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses; 23and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, engraver, designer, and embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. 24All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred thirty shekels, measured by the sanctuary shekel. 25The silver from those of the congregation who were counted was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels, measured by the sanctuary shekel; 26a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, measured by the sanctuary shekel), for everyone who was counted in the census, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred three thousand, five hundred fifty men. 27The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary, and the bases of the curtain; one hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent for a base. 28Of the thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their capitals and made bands for them. 29The bronze that was contributed was seventy talents, and two thousand four hundred shekels;

Building Around the Center
At the beginning of this passage we see that an accounting is taking place for this is a declaration of the records of the tabernacle and chapters 38 and 39 consists of this report. In chapter 38 we find that one of Aaron’s sons is overseeing the tabernacle work, one Ithamar [Exodus 28:1]. This continues the impression we have that the tabernacle is under Aaron’s jurisdiction. Precious metals used in the construction, gold, silver and bronze are accounted for here.
• Gold, given in free-will offerings, amounted to 87,730 shekels estimating 3,000 shekels to the talent, weighing [76 lbs/talent] a little over a ton.
• Silver, taken in a census [Exodus 30:12ff] of all men twenty years and up, 100 talents, roughly 3 ½ tons.
• Bronze, contributed, presumably in the free-will offering, 70 talents, 2 ¼ tons.
[all weights calculated from 185:681. Cf. 408:637: gold 1900 lbs., silver 6,437 lbs. and bronze 4,522 lbs.]
This is an audit, if you will, an accounting made to Moses, of the treasure given for the building of the tabernacle. It was not an inconsiderable gift. One question that persists is where did it come from? Was it from the borrowings of the slave people as they left Egypt? Certainly, in the year that has transpired from the exodus to the building of the tabernacle it would have been hard for this nomadic people to have accumulated wealth, since presumably slaves had very little to begin with. There are no answers to such questions. Even posing the questions allows room for questioning the historicity of these accounts.

Another reason for questioning the historicity of these accounts is the simple size and weight of this ‘mobile’ tabernacle. It is growing like topsy. Nothing seems to weigh much less than a 100 pounds. And ‘mobile’ is the key here. This tabernacle is to move with the people, and it is designed with rings for bearing poles for every piece of furniture; this leaves no question about the intent. It is not impossible, it would simply require many, many bearers. Maybe this is part of the reason it took another 39 years to cross the Sinai and the Negeb to the Promised Land, and that is not to discount God’s action in requiring a generation to accomplish this.

More to the point, these people are creating, for themselves and for the whole world, a society that centers in the worship and service of the One God. Like the European town that is built around the church, so Israel builds and gathers around its center, the Tabernacle where God dwells.

All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee
translated by Israel Zangwill

All the world shall come to serve Thee
And bless Thy glorious Name,
And Thy righteousness triumphant
The islands shall acclaim.
And the peoples shall go seeking
Who knew Thee not before,
And the ends of earth shall praise Thee,
And tell Thy greatness o’er.

They shall build for Thee their altars,
Their idols overthrown,
And their graven gods shall shame them,
As they turn to Thee alone.
They shall worship Thee at sunrise,
And feel Thy Kingdom’s might,
And impart their understanding
To those astray in night.

They shall testify Thy greatness,
And of Thy power speak,
And extol Thee, shrined, uplifted
Beyond man’s highest peak.
And with reverential homage,
Of love and wonder born,
With the ruler’s crown of beauty
Thy head they shall adorn.

With the coming of Thy Kingdom
The hills shall break into song,
And the islands laugh exultant
That they to God belong.
And all their congregations
So loud Thy praise shall sing,
That the uttermost peoples hearing,
Shall hail Thee crowned King.
403:453

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

In the Eye of the Beholder

Daily Readings
Psalm 50 + Exodus 37 + Leviticus 17 + Matthew 6

Verse for the Day
“I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.”
Psalm 50:11

Daily Text Exodus 37:6-9, 17-24
6He made a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 7He made two cherubim of hammered gold; at the two ends of the mercy seat he made them, 8one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim at its two ends. 9The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They faced one another; the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the mercy seat. 17He also made the lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand were made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals were of one piece with it. 18There were six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 19three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20On the lampstand itself there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. 21There was a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches. 22Their calyxes and their branches were of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. 23He made its seven lamps and its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24He made it and all its utensils of a talent of pure gold.

In the Eye of the Beholder
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, and this passage is one of beauty and grace. These descriptions of the mercy seat and the lampstand or menorah are ones taking us back to near the beginnings of recorded history. They have become the source of imagination and creativity for artists and poets from that time.

The mercy seat was approximately 44 inches long and 26 inches wide. It was the cover for the ark of the covenant within which was placed the tablets of stone. At either end was a gold cherub facing each other and they may have been representations of a lion-like animal with wings, characterizing an angel or messenger of God. The cherubim were molded with the mercy seat into a single gold construction. Here we catch a rare glimpse of a nation pursuing excellence in the arts. Rare because the prohibition against such images has always put the brakes on Jewish creativity in these sorts of arts. But here in this most holy place, Bezalel (meaning “in the shadow of God”) is given free rein for his abilities. This was the place of atonement, of propitiation for the sins of the people. It was also considered the footstool for the Presence of God himself who presumably dwelt above the mercy seat like the cherubim (I Chronicles 28:2, Psalm 99:5). Once a year the high priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14). It spoke of the ultimate mercy of the God of Israel in forgiving the sins of his people.

The lampstand or menorah we have seen before in Exodus. It was perhaps a likeness of a living shrub, representative of the tree of life from the Garden of Eden. It consisted of three parts, a tripod base, above which a vertical shaft, from which sprang three branches on each side that curved up to the same height as the central shaft. Each branch and the central shaft terminated in a cup made in the form of an almond flower. A specially compounded oil provided the fuel for the lamp. If the talent of gold required to create this single piece of hammered work is accurate, the menorah would have weighed about 76, and in one source, 96 pounds.

Menorah
by William Ellery Leonard

We’ve read in legends of the books of old
How deft Bezalel, wisest in his trade,
At the command of veiled Moses made
The seven-branched candlestick of beaten gold—
The base, the shaft, the cups, the knobs, the flowers,
Like almond blossoms—and the lamps were seven.

We know at least that on the templed rock
Of Zion hill, with earth’s revolving hours
Under the changing centuries of heaven,
It stood upon the solemn altar block,
By every Gentile who had heard abhorred—
The holy light of Israel of the Lord;
Until that Titus and the legions came
And battered the walls with catapult and fire,
And bore the priest and candlestick away,
And, as memorial of fulfilled desire,
Bade carve upon the arch that bears his name
The stone procession ye may see today
Beyond the Forum on the Sacred way,
Lifting the golden candlestick of fame.
The city fell, the temple was a heap;
And little children, who had else grown strong
And in their manhood venged the Roman wrong,
Strewed step and chamber, in eternal sleep.
But the great vision of the sevenfold flames
Outlasted the cups wherein at first it sprung.
The Greeks might teach the arts, the Romans law;
The heathen hordes might shout for bread and games;
Still Israel, exalted in the realms of awe,
Guarded the Light in many an alien air,
Along the borders of the midland sea
In hostile cities, spending praise and prayer
And pondering on the larger things that be—
Down through the ages, when the Cross uprose
Among the northern Gentiles to oppose:
Then huddled in the ghettos, barred at night,
In lands of unknown trees, and fiercer snows,
They watched for evermore the Light, the Light.

The main seas opened to the west. The Nations
Covered new continents with generations
That had their work to do, their thought to say;
And Israel’s hosts from bloody towns afar
In the dominions of the ermined Czar,
Seared with the iron, scarred with many a stroke,
Crowded the hollow ships but yesterday.
And came to us who are to-morrow’s folk,
And the pure Light, however some might doubt
Who mocked their dirt and rags, had not gone out.

The holy Light of Israel hath unfurled
Its tongues of mystic flame around the world.
Empires and Kings and Parliaments have passed;
Rivers and mountain chains from age to age
Become new boundaries for man’s politics.
The navies run new ensigns up the mast,
The temples try new creeds, new equipage;
The schools new sciences beyond the six.
And through the lands where many a song hath rung
The people speak no more their fathers’ tongue.
Yet in the shifting energies of man
The Light of Israel remains her Light.
And gathered to a splendid caravan
From the four corners of the day and night,
The chosen people—so the prophets hold—
Shall yet return unto the homes of old
Under the hills of Judah. Be it so.
Only the stars and moon and sun can show
A permanence of light to hers akin.

What is that Light? Who is there that shall tell
The purport of the tribe of Israel?—
In the wild welter of races on that earth
Which spins in space where thousand others spin—
The casual offspring of the Cosmic Mirth
Perhaps—what is there any man can win,
Of any nation? Ultimates aside,
Men have their aims, and Israel her pride,
She stands among the rest, austere, aloof,
Still the peculiar people, armed in proof
Of Selfhood, whilst the others merge or die.
She stands among the rest and answers: “I,
Above ye all, must ever gauge success
By ideal types, and know the more and less
Of things as being in the end defined,
For this our human life by righteousness;
And if I base this in Eternal Mind—
Our fathers’ God in victory or distress—
I cannot argue for my hardihood,
Save that the thought is in my flesh and blood,
And made me what I was in olden time,
And keeps me what I am today in every clime.”
403:151

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Beauty of Holiness

Daily Readings Psalm 49+Exodus 36:2-38+Leviticus 16+Matthew 5

Verse for the Day
“…God will ransom my life; he will snatch me from the grasp of death. Psalm 49:15

Lectio Divina Exodus 36:2-7
2Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the the LORD had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.’ 6So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing; 7for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.

The Beauty of Holiness
This is a beautiful story. These people begin bringing their own valued belongings to dedicate to the building of the Tabernacle. It is obvious that feeling forgiven for the golden calf, they are once more confident in Moses’ leadership, and their commitment to the One God. Not only did they bring their gold freely, but every other precious thing. They continued every morning bringing these offerings until the workmen protested and Moses’ had to order them to stop giving. Such a problem! When following God becomes wholehearted, then giving becomes natural. It is one of the marks of the committed. The gifts become more than valuables.

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness
by John S. B. Monsell

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
Gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
Kneel and adore Him,--the Lord is His name.

Low at His feet lay thy burden of carefulness,
High on His heart He will bear it for thee,
Comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings we lay on His shrine;
These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
He will accept in the Name all divine.
407:350

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Lord's Offering

Daily Readings Psalm 48+Exodus 35:1-36:1+Leviticus 15+Matthew 4

Verse for the Day But Jesus answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

Daily Text Exodus 35:1-3, 21,22,36:1
Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: 2Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day. 21And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments. 22So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the LORD.

Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.

The Lord’s Offering
In Exodus 31 the Sabbath is a last reminder for those who would build the Tabernacle. In Exodus 35, the point at which Moses convokes the building, the Sabbath observance is the first reminder. Always, Sabbath is held before the people of God. It also represents a chiastic form of repetition that is very common in ancient literature. Thus A-the tabernacle then the Sabbath is mentioned in AB order in chapter 31. When it is repeated in 35 it becomes B-the Sabbath, then A-the tabernacle. In 35 fire is prohibited outside the Tabernacle on the Sabbath and there is no known motivation for that. It simply becomes a part of the observance.

Bezalel and Oholiab are commissioned to be the artisans for the Tabernacle. The people are invited to give gifts of jewelry and precious things for the building of the Tabernacle and they do so as freely as they did so in the making of the Golden Calf, thus completing their repentance for that blasphemous act. Have you noticed that we are always willing to give for the making of something beautiful and more or less permanent. Maybe God has put that desire within us. This worship center, this place of divine presence was to be the locus of beauty in the lives of these nomadic peoples. It is from religion and art that the values of a culture are built and the people in this story gave of themselves for the development of each.

Bezalel
by Israel Zangwill

Bezalel, filled with wisdom to design
Stones, precious wood, rich-embroidered fabrics, gold,
Fed not the few with cunning manifold
Nor empty loveliness; his art divine
Set up a tabernacle as a sign
Of oneness for a rabble many-souled,
So that each span of desert should behold
A nomad people with a steadfast shrine.

But we, its sons, who wander in the dark,
Footsore, far-scattered, growing less and less,
What whiteness glooms our brotherhood to mark,
What promised land our journey’s end to bless!
We are, unless we build some shrine or ark,
A dying rabble in a wilderness.
403:74

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Be Ready in the Morning

Daily Lectionary Psalm 47+Exodus 34+Leviticus 14+Matthew3

Verse for the Day

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love….” Exodus 34:6

Daily Text Exodus 34:6, 7
6The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’


Be Ready in the Morning
In 34:2 God prepares Moses for his upcoming encounter: be ready in the morning. Moses had asked to see the glory of God, and God had promised in 33:19 ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’ and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. God promises to continue to act with all integrity. Moses is as ready as anyone can be to move into the very presence of the living God. God descends in the cloud and stands before proclaiming his name. Here in the short space of one sentence is the most diverse revelation of the nature of God in all of scripture.
• The Lord, the Lord,the tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable name, pronounced
by God himself. The traditional interpretation is that this name discloses the
mercy of God.
• God, this is the Hebrew word ‘El’ the ruler, comparable to ‘God Most High’.
• Compassionate, rachum, the one sympathetic to suffering, a female quality, the
root word being rechem, the mother’s womb.
• Gracious, as one who is freely concerned and helpful.
• Slow to anger, the one who gives ample opportunity to repent.
• Abounding in steadfast love, rav hesed, and this beyond human deserving.
• Faithfulness, emet, truth as in goodness, truth and beauty.
• Extending steadfast love to the 1000th generation, remembering unendingly his
goal in creating human beings to be at rest with him.
• Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, open to repentance of human evil
disposition, rebelliousness and guilt.
• By no means clearing the guilty, there are limits to God’s mercy with the
unrepentant.

Jewish scholars from Philo on attempted to formulate comprehensive principles from these descriptive words that would lend insight into God’s true nature and Abraham ibn Daud deducted seven positive attributes: God’s unity, truth, existence, omniscience, will, omnipotence, and being. [the above discussion dependent upon Plaut, The Torah, p. 663.]

All of this and more Moses encountered that morning and in the subsequent forty days on the mountain of God. When he came down his face was radiant, so much so that Aaron and the people wanted to avoid him for fear. The scriptures attest that Moses continued to meet God and his face continued to be radiant in the years to follow, so much so that he habitually wore a veil when he was not either communicating with God or relaying God’s words to the people. (I Corinthians 3 contradicts this, most likely reflecting a midrashic conclusion that somehow God’s glory faded from Moses’ face. Certainly that interpretation is not generated in the Torah.)

The Secret
by Ralph Spaulding Cushman

I met God in the morning
When my day was at its best,
And His presence came like sunrise,
Like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O’er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them
Brought to us a peace and rest.

Then I thought of other mornings,
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings,
With the Presence left behind.

So I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way:
You must seek Him in the morning
If you want Him through the day!
407:408