October 4, 2020

Salt & Light Online

A current connection to each week's session

God Shows Up
Exodus 24:1-12

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This week’s reading from Exodus 24 describes intimate encounters with God. Various people have access to God at different proximities. In verse 1, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders “worship at a distance.” Verse 2 says Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others and the people “shall not come near.” But watch what happens in verses 9 and 10. Moses shares the law, builds an altar, and erects 12 pillars; all the people say they will obey all the ordinances; the young men slaughter the oxen and dash their blood on the altar and on the people. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders “see” the God of Israel. The ritual gives all the people access to “all the words” (Exodus 24:3, 8). Rituals effect change.

If we try to imagine this scene, we may sense how strange it would have been to be present, to be splattered with blood, and then eat a meal. Rituals are, by definition, out of the ordinary, disorienting, and reorienting.

Last week in the United States we saw the rituals surrounding the death of a Supreme Court justice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state in the US Capitol. As a Mennonite, I am unfamiliar with mourning rituals performed by the joint services military honor guard and a Jewish rabbi. The slow salutes, the precise marching, the shouted commands, and the psalms sung in Hebrew made an awesome spectacle. Our ecumenical clergy group happened to be gathering as Justice Ginsberg’s body lay in state. I heard comments such as “It sort of makes me wish I were Jewish” and “Nobody does liturgy like the military.”

In the brief service at the Supreme Court, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt suggested a few parallels between Moses, the lawgiver, and Justice Ginsberg, the law interpreter. The rabbi called Justice Ginsberg a prophet: “It is the rare prophet who not only imagines a new world but also makes that new world a reality in her lifetime. This was the brilliance and vision of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”[1]

Rabbi Holtzblatt reminded us that Ginsberg spent her life not only working with constitutional law but also obeying the biblical law, the Torah. Rabbi Holtzblatt said, The Torah is relentless in reminding, in instructing, in commanding that we never forget those who live in the shadows. Those whose freedom and opportunity are not guaranteed. Thirty-six times we are taught that we must never forget the stranger. Twelve times we are told to care for the widow and the orphan. This is one of the most important commandments of the Torah. It is the Torah’s call to action.[2]

Finally, as Moses broadened access to “all the people” in Exodus 24, Justice Ginsberg helped reinterpret the US Constitution to include all the people. Rabbi Holtzblatt quoted Justice Ginsberg saying, “‘Think back to 1787. Who were ‘We the people’? They certainly weren’t women. They surely weren’t people held in human bondage. The genius of our Constitution is that now, over more than 200 sometimes turbulent years, that ‘we’ has expanded and expanded. This was Justice Ginsberg’s life’s work: to insist that the Constitution deliver on its promise. That ‘We the people’ would include all the people. She carried out that work in every chapter of her life.”[3]

  • What contemporary prophets do you know whose work opens access to God to “all the people”?

—Gwen Groff, bethanym@vermontel.net

© 2020

Resources for this session

  • NEW! Salt & Light Videos: These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

1. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks Capitol Funeral for Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” YouTube, (full video), September 25, 2020.
2. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks.”
3. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks.”

Gwen Groff is pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. She lives in Plymouth, Vermont, with her husband and intermittently with her adult children.

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