Thought for the week - 7 March 2020
Lent 3. Reading Exodus 20. 1-17. ‘The Ten Commandments.’ (RSV) And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; 11 for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. 12 “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. 13 “You shall not kill. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
Q: What are the Commandments all about?
Now look at this this: (Bear with me!)
The Marriage Service
Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church. The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives. It is given as the foundation of family life in which children are [born and] nurtured and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad, may find strength, companionship and comfort, and grow to maturity in love. Marriage is a way of life made holy by God, and blessed by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with those celebrating a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Marriage is a sign of unity and loyalty which all should uphold and honour. It enriches society and strengthens community. No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God. N and N are now to enter this way of life. They will each give their consent to the other and make solemn vows, and in token of this they will [each] give and receive a ring. We pray with them that the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen them, that they may fulfil God’s purposes for the whole of their earthly life together. The minister says to the couple The vows you are about to take are to be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all and knows all the secrets of our hearts; therefore if either of you knows a reason why you may not lawfully marry, you must declare it now. The minister says to the bridegroom N, will you take N to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live? He answers I will. The minister says to the bride N will you take N to be your husband? Will you love him, comfort him, honour and protect him, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? She answers I will. The Marriage The couple stand before the minister. The Vows The minister introduces the vows N and N, I now invite you to join hands and make your vows, in the presence of God and his people. The bride and bridegroom face each other. The bridegroom takes the bride’s right hand in his, and says I, N, take you, N, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow. They loose hands. The bride takes the bridegroom’s right hand in hers, and says I, N, take you, N, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.
Question: What are Marriage vows for?
Becoming the People of God As we make a Lenten journey through the history of God’s People we reach on the Third Sunday his mighty servant Moses. Moses is instructed by God to head up the rescue mission that he intends, delivering Israel from the oppressive regime of Pharaoh. At first Moses is filled with apprehension, but with accompanying signs and wonders Israel passes through the Red Sea to on an exodus journey to freedom. The escaping Israelites are a large and petulant multitude, and rather than take a direct route to the territory that they will eventually inhabit they turn towards Mount Sinai, so that Moses can meet directly with God. What happens on Mount Sinai is a formative experience for Israel, and here they are transformed from a gaggle of runaway slaves into the People of God. God is encountered in a rather terrifying and bewildering way at Sinai – Exodus describes it in terms of earthquakes and thunder and lightning, powerful and disorienting. But what emerges are three gifts from God to re-order Israel. Firstly, he reminds them of the covenant relationship that he has with them, and of the faithful bond between them; secondly, he gives them a moral law by which they may know his purpose and be guided in ways that reflect his holiness; thirdly, he gives them a set of ritual practices through which they may express contrition for sin, thankfulness for mercy, and commitment to him as the true God rather than the other gods the nations around them worshipped. So when we look at the Ten Commandments, as we do on this Sunday of Lent, it’s always in the context of those three gifts that Israel received at Sinai that we understand them. They are not some random set of instructions, seemingly designed to prevent us from doing what we would like. Rather, they come as part of the way God is forming his people. They are (eventually) treasured by Israel because observing them is the way they can lovingly respond to God’s loving choice of them, and because their own way of life can then reflect something of the holiness of God. The Ten Commandments are, in the main, framed in the negative “thou shalt not”, but beneath the negative there is always a positive aspiration. So, when they tell us “you shall do no murder” there is the obvious prohibition against killing someone, and that is a basis foundation for any civilised society. Beneath the negative though is the positive, for not taking a life implies a commitment to life itself – in all its forms. Or we might think of the negative “you shall not commit adultery”. Again, this is a basic way of preventing society falling into chaos, but there is a deeper ‘positive’ there; adultery is the moment a marriage is breaking down, so this is an encouragement to couples to think of the other more than the self, and to live one life as one flesh. The commandments tell us “not to bear false witness”, because telling lies about others can never be the foundation of justice. But this is also a reminder to be truthful in all forms of communication. In this book, ‘What is the point of being a Christian?’ Timothy Radcliffe observes that, properly understood the commandments teach us about freedom, because they help us remember who we really are – people made in God’s own image to reflect his holiness. He writes: “The Ten Commandments are not an external constraint on our freedom: they tell us who we are. If I feel myself being carried away by a sudden desire to murder the Prior, then ‘Thou shalt not kill’ reminds me that I am his brother, and that I do not really want to kill him, much.” (What is the Point of Being a Christian (Continuum 2005 p43) In receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai the Israelites discover that, with God, they can build a community without fear, rivalry or anxiety. They are given an invitation to a deeper form of friendship – becoming the people with whom God dwells in a particular way. This, too, is part of how God is preparing the way for Jesus and the Church that he establishes as the new People of God. Our way of life is our loving response to loving commitment, and our call to follow the commandments an invitation: if you want to grow in love, then this is how.
Sinai was a key moment in how Israel came to understand itself.
What are the key moments in your life that have shaped who you are and how you think about yourself?
The Commandments are even now relatively well known Do you think the Church conveys the positive aspect of the commandments? If not, how could we be a more effective witness?
How do you think the way our parish community practises the faith appears to other people?