Friday, October 28, 2011

In the Meantime: Those other 13 chapters

Our texts this week go off lectionary for the Old Testament and back in the lectionary for the Gospel: Exodus 35:4-29, 36:1-3 (yes, I am not joking) and Matthew 21:33-46.

Here's something interesting about Exodus, as we come to the end of our lectionary journey through this book: The lectionary (suggested readings for the church year) is full of stories from Exodus' first half. We get tales from Exodus 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 20 this year alone. Exodus, however, does not end with chapter 20; it goes on another 20 chapters, out of which only two chapters are suggested to read: a snippet from Exodus 32 and another snippet from Exodus 33.

What happens in the rest of those chapters?

Little known fact: 13 of Exodus' 40 chapters (25-31 and 35-40) are devoted to the construction of the Tabernacle-- a Dwelling place for the presence of God, that may honor and host God's presence. Unlike the later Temple the Israelites would construct, this Tabernacle would be portable--mobile--able to accompany them in their travels and in their movement into the Promised Land. It would hold symbols of ways God had spoken to and provided for them and be constructed and adorned with meticulous and holy precision. It would be the place where God's glory could dwell...and God took tons of time, both before and after the Golden Calf debacle, to outline for the Israelites how they are to assemble such a place.

I am thinking, if 13 chapters are devoted to the blueprints of and process of setting up the Tabernacle, we probably should not ignore the role the Tabernacle played in early Israel's formation. When you read Exodus 35, it likely will overwhelm you (as it does me) with unfamiliar terms--ephods and mercy seats, lampstands and curtains for screens and tanned rams skins. We don't have much framework for these ideas and can quickly get lost in them...BUT, I think we do need to think about the meaning behind them. What does it look like for us to create holy space? How do the things we bring and build reflect what we believe about God? What does it look like for us to provide a welcome for God's presence, in whatever form God's presence may take? How do we create space for God to travel with us, to abide and dwell among us?

I hope that, even amidst the somewhat confusing language of these tabernacle chapters, this central story of Exodus can help us ask these central questions of ourselves this Sunday. Looking forward to being back together!

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