September 1, 2011

Cleft of the Rock

Posted in Moses, Son of God, The Eucharist at 8:02 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

“Show me thy glory, Lord,” was Moses’ plea.
But God in love refused to let him see.
Swift death it was for man to view His face.
Even His prophet could not gain this grace.

So Moses stood where YHWH told him to
And in that rock a crevice He did hew.
The Lord passed by and sheltered Moses there,
Revealing what humanity could bear.

Another Rock God’s glory did disclose,
The Rock from whom life-giving water flows.
For in Christ’s face, the Father was revealed.
His followers saw God’s splendor unconcealed.

They touched the Son of God and handled Him.
He, no illusion, walked with them.
Christ, cleft for Moses, Stone not cut by hands,
Rejected on this earth but chief in Heaven’s plans.

Now we, partaking of His blood and bread,
Take shelter in the Rock who is our Head.
We taste and handle God’s consuming fire.
In Sacrament we find Moses’ desire.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

In Exodus 33, a fascinating discussion takes place between Moses and God. Moses had reluctantly started his ministry after hearing God’s voice from a burning bush and had seen God’s hand at work multiple times since that day. Yet after the children of Israel ask a compliant Aaron to provide the golden calf as an alternative worship experience, God gets angry with His people, and Moses gets frustrated with his job. Now, Moses really does have a difficult time, and we might be compelled to feel sorry for him except that his task is to lead people who are impatient and fickle—you know, people like himself. People who are like me. Possibly even like you. How do we know they were like Moses? Well, he had just been on the mountaintop with God, hearing in beautiful detail how God was working out the salvation of His people. God was not so busy dictating the Law that He missed seeing the shenanigans at the foot of the mountain. The faithlessness of the Israelites could not negate God’s eternal faithfulness. At Moses insistence (I’m convinced He only wanted Moses to recognize that forgiveness was necessary), God decided not to destroy them all. After punishing the unrepentant, God tells Moses it’s time for them to go. And Moses asks for a sign of God’s glory. Yet, he had been seeing God’s glory through a glass darkly all along. To see the full glory of God is not possible for sinful beings, even if they are chosen as God’s prophet.

So God was merciful enough NOT to give Moses what he asked for. But He did give Moses what he needed and what the people needed. He gave them Himself. That is ultimately what He always gives us, and it is what we always need. If you compare Exodus 33:12-17 with John 14:5-11, you find amazing parallels. Thomas is confused when Jesus tells them they can eventually come to where He is going. Like Moses, He seems to think the journey is primarily about place, when it is really about our Traveling Companion. Jesus is always inviting His people to come “further up and further in” (to borrow a phrase from Lewis’ The Last Battle). And as He does, He is always the way, the truth, the life, the bread, the door, the rock, and our shelter from the ultimate storm, which is the Father’s wrath that we deserve because of our sins. Philip, like Moses, asks to see the glory of God (“Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us”), but that Glory is standing before him.

How many times we miss the presence of God because we don’t understand what it is supposed to look like! For us, it very often looks like bread and wine, blessed by the Holy Spirit. Now, as with Philip and with Moses, God’s presence is truly with us.

This poem was completed on May 12, 2008, a few months after my son’s death. Those dark days required the presence of the Lord, but even more than that, I needed to know that the God who sustains me day by day was the same God who has been working on this earth throughout history, walking with His own people and saving them from the horror of their own sins. What a great comfort that truth was, as I contemplated how badly my own plans for my life had gone awry! The grace and mercy of God does not always meet our expectations, but only because our expectations are faulty. It required a massive stretching of my soul to understand that because what we see on this earth is not all there is, what happens here is of little importance unless it has eternal consequences. A serious illness that teaches us to trust in God is the kindest gift our Lord can provide.

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