The Readings: Exodus 24:1-18; Colossians 2:8-23; Matthew 4:12-17
(For Friday, Week of 3 Easter, not Saint Philip and St James, Apostles)
Exodus 24 narrates the ratifying of the covenant (treaty) announced in Exodus 19 (“if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”). After God addresses the people directly (the “Ten Commandments”), the people ask that Moses receive subsequent instruction and pass it on. The subsequent instruction occupies Exodus 20:22-23:33; Moses passes it on to the people; the people respond—as they had in 19:8—“All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do;” now the two-part ratification.
All the people participate in the first part, involving pillars, sacrifices, blood, reading, declaration, more blood, ending with Moses’ “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Ritual is language, often—like here—performative language, evocative, more like poetry than prose, only somewhat translatable. Blood, one of our most potent symbols for life, death, identity. The blood of circumcision, the ram’s blood (not Isaac’s!) shed on that other mountain, the lamb’s blood at Passover, this blood… The New Testament references to the blood of Christ draw on all this, and we Gentiles must work backwards, not so much to understand as to get a sense of the mystery to which we’re being pointed.
A representative group participates in the second part: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.”
That may be a scene to let sink deep into our imaginations. The stories Israel’s neighbors told about their gods help us recognize that if it’s treaty-making, it’s also a victory celebration. I wonder how it might have worked in Isaiah’s imagination.
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.” (25:6-8a)
How might this (Exodus) scene shape our participation in the Eucharist? The Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ: how like or unlike their beholding God?