Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

February 28, 2016, Third Sunday of Lent (in parishes not doing RCIA)

Before the first reading:

The Hebrew descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had become slaves in Egypt, and lost their memory of the Lord. Later, led by Moses, they recovered their memory. But first, God had to arrange a reintroduction. Here the Lord startles and reintroduces himself to the Hebrew who will later lead the people back to their homeland.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Today's second reading is Paul's homily based on the Exodus story begun in the first reading. Paul's audience in Corinth was a rather disorderly bunch, so the Apostle's interpretation of the Scripture is stern.

Before the gospel acclamation:

Jesus, too, gives his audience a stern warning about the need to repent. He cites two contemporary events now lost to history. The closing parable alerts all not to take their status with God for granted.

First Reading, Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15

The Story Thus Far: Last week we heard God's promises of family and land to Abraham. Abraham's son Isaac sired Jacob, whose twelve sons left the land given to Abraham, and went to Egypt, temporarily, they hoped, to escape a famine. But they stayed and grew numerous, so the Egyptians, who called the descendants of Jacob "Hebrews," enslaved them. The Pharaoh's daughter adopted a Hebrew baby, naming him Moses. He grew into an adult in the Egyptian court, then lost favor. He left Egypt for Midian (location debatable), married, and got a job.

That all explains why Moses is in the desert, why both Moses and the other Hebrews back in Egypt need to be re-introduced to the God of their ancestors, and why God wants to lead them to "a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

Trisecting and Proclaiming this Passage: It will help your proclamation if you divide the passage into three sections (which may not match the paragraph divisions in your lectionary):

  • God's astonishing self-revelation and Moses' ritualistic responses (removing his sandals and covering his face). Read slowly so that your listeners can let the images form in their own imaginations, but treat these vivid images, even the image of the burning bush, only as fanfare for God's solemn self-description, "I am the God of your fathers, The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob."
  • God's announcement of the plan to rescue the Hebrews, from "I have witnessed the affliction ..." to "a land of milk and honey." Pause before you start this section. In the plan of the book of Exodus, this sets the stage for all that follows. In the plan of modern Christian Lent, this prepares us to hear, at the Easter Vigil, the chapter of Exodus that fulfills the promise, and to let the same God lead us out of our bondages into a new life in the risen Christ.
  • The dialogue about God's name and its meaning. Pause again, to let the solemnity of prior promise sink in. Using a different tone of voice, represent Moses asking an innocent, practical question, "What should I say is your name?" When you assume God's voice again, sound like God saying something mysterious (it is; see below). Say distinctly, slowly and solemnly each of the three variants of the name (your translations may differ):
    • I AM WHO AM
    • I AM
    • The LORD

A Theological Reflection about that Name: The English expressions "I am who am" and "I AM" are two of several possible translations of an essentially untranslatable Hebrew expression. They give God a name without putting God in any ready category, without removing any of the divine mystery. That the name is a sentence, not a noun, is suggestive: This is a God who does things, who acts, who intervenes in human history, who saves, who cares. It's also instructive that, both before and after announcing the mysterious name, God insists he is the God of Israel's ancestors. This is to prepare the slaves to reclaim their free and noble heritage. All this is appropriate for early in Lent, because it begins the story that will climax so dramatically in our required reading on Holy Saturday, when Moses finally does lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

The Historical Background: Lector's Notes have often stated that Corinth was a wild and woolly place, and the Corinthian Christian community needed some strong governance from the Apostle. As I learned in 2001 from the excellent book about Jesus, called Desire of the Everlasting Hills, by Thomas Cahill (New York: Random House, 1999), Corinth, which had been "destroyed by the Romans in the second century B.C., but reestablished by Julius Caesar as an exile for undesirables, had become a boomtown, full of retired army grunts, resettled freedmen, and assorted misfits and refugees from more conventional lifestyles, a place where anything might happen. To his Corinthian converts, who were always giving him hives, Paul sent his most eloquent exposition of the life of a true believer, hoping that with such a detailed descriptions they would finally get things straight."

The Apostle's Literary Method (and allusions to our great liturgy of baptism at the end of Lent): Unusual for a second reading, this passage is Paul's commentary on today's first reading. For the sake of his unruly, sorely tempted converts, Paul summons up a cautionary tale. The Israelites, led by Moses, passed miraculously through the sea when they escaped Egypt. They were led across the desert by a cloud. (Their encounters with these watery elements amount to baptism, Paul says.) God gave them water from the rock when they were thirsty. (Paul depicts Christ retroactively present in this event.) Despite all these wonders, many were still faithless, so God let them die in the desert without reaching the Promised Land. The Corinthians are in the same danger, and Paul warns them sternly, "Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care lest he fall."

Your Proclamation: The first few repetitive sentences, up to "and the rock was Christ," all prepare the recipients for the bad news, "God was not pleased ..." So, unusual for Lector's Notes, I recommend you go through those sentences in a repetitive pattern, but break the pattern at "Yet God was not pleased ..." which should sound conclusive.

In the remaining sentences, don't be afraid to sound stern (Paul wasn't). Pronounce the last sentence slowly and with foreboding. Someone's life may depend on hearing this warning and taking it to heart.

 
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Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

Moses and the Burning Bush, a stained-glass window attributed to Tiffany Studios and said, on some websites, to be in Union Congregational Church (United Church of Christ), Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.A. Of this kind of work, Wikipedia says, "Tiffany glass refers to the many and varied types of glass developed and produced from 1878 to 1933 at the Tiffany Studios in New York, by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a team of other designers, including Clara Driscoll." The extensive website of Union Church says nothing about its windows.

Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.

This page updated January 25, 2016