Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name, Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Pharaoh has not changed much in the six thousand years of recorded history. We look at those words from Deuteronomy. It is not to your fathers. The Jewish community derives their concept of the Physical Presence from this passage. Each generation relives, for the first time, each time they celebrate Passover, there escape from מִצְרַיִם. As A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament points out, they recline at table all as equals. They prepare dressed as free men, with the goods the Egyptians gave them. They eat foods reminding them of their oppression in מִצְרַיִם.
Catholics also have the concept of the Physical Presence, as do the Eastern Orthodox. For us it is also the Physical Presence of our escape from our old selves, our old adherence as victims to the double bind. Our escape is the body of Jesus Christ. It is no coincidence; Passover and Easter are from the same feast celebrated at the same time of year. We remember what it was like to be oppressed, to be in the double bind. When we see others suffer, we remember what it was like to be there, and we do something. This is justice. This is the national identity upon which Judaism and Christianity bases themselves. There is no room for tough love. If we remember this Mitzvah we can forget all the others, not because they do not apply, but because in fulfilling this one we fulfill all the others.
Deuteronomy teaches another lesson:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ
לְבָבְis the plural of לְבָ, heart. We each love God with all of our hearts, plural. We each have more than one. Jewish tradition takes a Freudian move here. We each have many inclinations, some which are good, some not so good. Inclinations of themselves in Freud are neither good nor evil. How we use them, make them good or evil. “The Personal name told Cain: ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face fallen? If you do well, will it not be lifted up? If do not do well, failure waits as a lion at the door; and its desire is for you, but you rule over it.” Part of Pharaoh’s deceit is to convince us that we deserve no better, we, not he, is the evil one. God teaches us to love God with our evil inclination. Our inclinations by themselves are neither good nor evil.
God, the “Personal” name speaks to us in our weakness, reminding us how to “reflect upon three things and we will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment. From where you came–from a putrid drop; where you are going–to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment before the supreme King of Kings, the Dedicated One, blessed be He.” We are a putrid drop on our way to becoming dust and ashes. God knows this and loves us anyway. He thinks we deserve better, all of us deserve better by virtue of God making us in his image. That is the lesson of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Exodus 20 relates of the temple, “An altar of earth make for me, and sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings and communion sacrifices, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be invoked, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stone for me, do not build it of cut stone, for by putting a chisel to it you make it common.”
God wants to present to us an image, which our Cathedrals and parishes try to emulate. We descend from that back of the nave to the altar area, much as people climb down a hill. Then we ascend up to the altar, much as St. Peter ascended with Jesus to the transfiguration. We climb up and down the rolling hills to a volcano.
Our churches are often darkened to remind us of the volcanic cloud. We have incense, not to remind us of the sacrifices; Jesus is our sacrifice, but to remind us of the volcanic cloud. We have flowers to remind us of Jesus’ lilies of the field, here today and gone tomorrow, and the lilies on the way to Mt. Sinai. Our Mass is meant to be a transformational experience. We transform from slaves in oppression/Egypt, and through liberation we become a community in service to God through service to each other, a true community of worship.
This is part 3. For part 1 click here.
For part 2 click here.