Every time I look at this painting by the great Belarusian/French painter Marc Chagall, my heart is warmed. The scene shows Moses, just after he has received the Ten Commandments from the Holy One on Mount Sinai. I do not see some executor of an arbitrary code of law. I see one holding two stone tablets as a parent might hold a new-born infant, filled with affection and joy. I wish I had been introduced to this painting earlier in life.
Gazing at this painting now, I am reminded that the original description of the ‘ten commandments’ is the ‘ten words’. These are words given to us by God, born of love and passed on for life. When we hold them, we hold God’s love and life.
Because the ‘ten words’ are shaped by grammar using negatives, the ‘thou-shalt-not’ language, I have for too long thought of them in terms of constraint and restriction. Now I realize they are all about freedom. Now I think of them like the tethered but floating plastic bottles placed at various rocky areas around the lake at the cottage, warning all boaters of certain areas of danger … and with the whole rest of the lake to enjoy.
And how wonderful that these ten words begin with an introduction of God as the one ‘who brought you out of the house of bondage’ (Deuteronomy 5:6) – the commandments point us beyond themselves to the One whose chief characteristic is the ability and desire to work freedom for the oppressed. We live in a world that knows the experience of bondage all too well, from addictions to possessions and substances, to whole peoples who live under the rule of oppression and war. How good it is to be reminded that God’s will and God’s work is freedom. Amen!
If you are in the area, join us Sunday morning as we begin a new congregational year. Kingston is alive with the abundance of farmer’s markets and students returning to Queen’s and St. Lawrence – St. Andrew’s shall be filled with the praise of God and the joy of freedom. Have a look at the Order of Service …