Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Prayer of Moses

Michelangelo Buonarotti 1475 - 1564
Marble, height 235 cm
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Vasari described the statue of Moses thus in his biography of Michelangelo (Part 4: The Tomb of Julius II to his Bronze Statue in Bologna) in The Lives of the Artists :

"On the corners of the first cornice were to go four large figures, the Active and the Contemplative Life, S. Paul, and Moses.

The structure rose above the cornice in steps gradually diminishing, with a frieze of scenes in bronze, and with other figures, children and ornaments all around, and at the summit, as a crown to the work, were two figures, one of which was Heaven, who, smiling, was supporting a bier on her shoulder, together with Cybele, the Goddess of Earth, who appeared to be grieving that she was left in a world robbed of all virtue by the death of such a man; and Heaven appeared to be smiling with gladness that his [Pope Julius II`s] soul had passed to celestial glory...

He finished the Moses, a statue in marble of five braccia, which no modern work will ever equal in beauty; and of the ancient statues, also, the same may be said.

For, seated in an attitude of great dignity, he rests one arm on the Tables, which he holds with one hand, and with the other he holds his beard, which is long and waving, and carved in the marble in such sort, that the hairs in which the sculptor finds such difficulty are wrought with the greatest delicacy, soft, feathery, and detailed in such a manner, that one cannot but believe that his chisel was changed into a pencil.

To say nothing of the beauty of the face, which has all the air of a true Saint and most dread Prince, you seem, while you gaze upon it, to wish to demand from him the veil wherewith to cover that face, so resplendent and so dazzling it appears to you, and so well has Michelagnolo expressed the divinity that God infused in that most holy countenance.

In addition, there are draperies carved out and finished with most beautiful curves of the borders; while the arms with their muscles, and the hands with their bones and nerves, are carried to such a pitch of beauty and perfection, and the legs, knees, and feet are covered with buskins so beautifully fashioned, and every part of the work is so finished, that Moses may be called now more than ever the friend of God, seeing that He has deigned to assemble together and prepare his body for the Resurrection before that of any other, by the hands of Michelagnolo.

Well may the Hebrews continue to go there, as they do every Sabbath, both men and women, like flocks of starlings, to visit and adore that statue; for they will be adoring a thing not human but divine."

A bit over the top even by the standards of Vasari but not by much. To dismiss Vasari`s critique as "vacuous hyperbole" would be to wrongly dismiss someone who was an artist and had a great appreciation of art.

It is therefore rather unfortunate that in most discussions of the statue of Moses situated in S. Pietro in Vincola, a large part of the discussion is usually devoted to the "meditation" on the statue by Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939). He wrote about the work in The Moses of Michelangelo (1914)

The work derives from a visit Freud made to Rome in 1913 when he appears to have been so fascinated by the statue and went nearly every day for three weeks to see and study the work.

Freud wrote:

"My feeling for this piece of work is rather like that towards a love-child. For three lonely September weeks in 1913 I stood every day in the church in front of the statue, studied it, measured it, sketched it, until I captured the understanding for it which I ventured to express in the essay only anonymously. Only much later did I legitimatize this non-analytical child"

Unfortunately Freud`s work tells us more about Freud than about the work, Moses, Pope Julius II or Michelangelo. There is a delicious irony in Freud gazing and being mesmerised by the statue, an idol which is meant to deplore idolatry and thereafter producing a meditation on the "idol"

Vasari clearly and concisely sums up the qualities inherent in the composition of Moses: sober-minded, grave, temperate, princely, terrible (terrifying), splendid, numinous, saintly, perfect in body, approaching divinity, spectacular and worthy of veneration. The statue is to be the counterpoint to Saint Paul: the Law and Grace.

In his biography of Michelangelo, Vasari associates many if not all of these qualities to Michelangelo himself. To what extent there are elements of Michelangelo, or Pope Julius II in this depiction of Moses can only be pure speculation

The composition represents the scene described in Exodus 32 and in Deuteronomy 9.

Chapter 32 of Exodus provides:

"Exodus 32

The Golden Calf

1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”

14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
it is not the sound of defeat;
it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing stock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

33 The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made."

The same events are described differently in Deuteronomy 9 and in this Chapter we have what seems to be Moses` own account of the incident and his feelings. It is in the form of a speech by Moses to the Israelites who are about to go into battle:

"1 Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. 2 The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” 3 But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

The Golden Calf

7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD. 8 At Horeb you aroused the LORD’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. 9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. 10 The LORD gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.

11 At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the LORD told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.”

13 And the LORD said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the LORD your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. 20 And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too.

21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

22 You also made the LORD angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah.

23 And when the LORD sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.

25 I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the LORD and said, “Sovereign LORD, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” "

The people rebel and Aaron, the brother of Moses who has been made the High Priest, makes a golden calf. God is very displeased and Moses intervenes and discovers what has happened. Furious he breaks the Tables of the Law and destroys the idol, the Golden Calf. Aaron tries to make excuses. Moses orders the priests to slay the idolaters. Moses attempts to plead with God for his people.

The composition depicts the time after Moses has received the Tablets on which the Law is inscribed. He is gazing at the worshippers of the Golden Calf which has ben created whilst he has been at the top of the mountain.

Wrath is the dominant feature of the composition. By sheer massive effort of Will, Moses is controlling his passion. Or is the moment prior to the bursting of the dam when passion overcomes him and he hurls the Tablets to the ground ?

It is this Chapter of Exodus which was the subject of the meditation by Pope Benedict XVI on Moses in his catechesis on Prayer.

His talk focused on one important element of the character of Moses in this incident: Moses the mediator and intercessor. A master of intercessory prayer.

For the Pope, this is why Moses is the figures which dominates the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament:

"In reading the Old Testament, one figure stands out among others: that of Moses, the man of prayer. Moses, the great prophet and leader during the time of the Exodus, carried out his role as mediator between God and Israel by becoming, among the people, the bearer of the divine words and commandments, by guiding them toward the freedom of the Promised Land, and by teaching the Israelites to live in obedience and trust toward God during their long sojourn in the desert; but also, and I would say especially, by praying."

It is a radically different portrait from that of Michelangelo and Freud !

Michelangelo`s aim was to please a war like, Imperial and majestic Pope who was his intimate. The Moses he depicted reflects the life and interest of his patron. Freud was brought up in the Jewish faith, rejected it and became an atheist. He delighted in the intellect. Hence his fascination with the qualities of the adamantine will and great intellect he saw reflected in the work.

The Pope of course could not be more different. A great intellect but also humble. His priority is God and communion with God. His faith is adamantine. His portarit of Moses reflects his priorities and interests.

His portait is more alive than the great sculpture which after all is in fact a decoration for a partially completed empty tomb

Perhaps the Pope`s vision is more akin to that of Cosimo Rosselli`s fresco Tables of the Law with the Golden Calf in the Sistine Chapel, an altogether more meditative piece than the passion of Michelangelo`s work and probably one that Michelangelo himself would have been more than familiar

Cosimo Rosselli 1439 - 1507
Tables of the Law with the Golden Calf
Fresco, 350 x 572 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Or perhaps that of Marc Chagall whose depictions of Moses and the Law are legion

Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985)
Moses and the Tables of the Law
80.5 x 58.5cm
Musée national Marc Chagall, Nice

The Pope narrated all the main "prayer events" of Moses:

"He prays for Pharaoh when God, through the plagues, was trying to convert the Egyptians' hearts (cf. Exodus 8:10); he asks the Lord to heal his sister Miriam who was struck with leprosy (cf. Numbers 12:9-13); he intercedes for the people who had rebelled, fearful of the scouts' report (cf. Numbers 14:1-19); he prays when fire was about to devour the camp (cf. Numbers 11:1-2) and when poisonous serpents were killing the people (cf. Numbers 21:4-9); he addresses himself to the Lord and reacts by protesting when the burden of his mission had grown too heavy (cf. Numbers 11:10-15); he sees God and speaks with him "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (cf. Exodus 24:9-17; 33:7-23; 34:1-10,28-35).

Also at Sinai, when the people ask Aaron to fashion for them a golden calf, Moses prays, thus carrying out in an emblematic way the true role of an intercessor"

The making of and worship of the idol constitutes the grave wrong of the people of Israel. It is against the Second Commandment, which of course had not yet been brought down from Sinai.

The Pope`s characterisation of the wrong committed is more subtle than a straight forward breach of "Commandment Number Two". His is not a literal interpretation of the Law. He interprets the Commandment in the spirit of the Law. In his summary the Pope makes it clear that it is a sin which has always been committed and is being committed today even by people who regard themselves as committed Christians and of other religions. It is quite a startling observation:

"Tired of a journey with an invisible God, now that Moses, the mediator, has also disappeared, the people ask for a tangible, touchable presence of the Lord, and find in the molten calf made by Aaron, a god made accessible, maneuverable, within man's reach.

It is a constant temptation on the journey of faith: to elude the divine mystery by constructing a comprehensible god, corresponding to one's own plans, to one's own projects.

What occurs at Sinai demonstrates all the foolishness and the illusory vanity of this demand since, as Psalm 106 ironically affirms, "they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox who eats grass" (Psalm 106:20)."

George Frederic Watts 1817-1904
Mammon: Dedicated to his Worshippers
Oil on canvas
support: 1829 x 1060 mm frame: 2150 x 1384 x 90 mm
The Tate, London

God`s reaction to the idolatry is severe and wrathful. Moses is also angry. Bbut the Pope does not refer to Moses being angry. In fact as the Pope makes clear Moses need not have been angered by the sins of the Israelites. God`s anger was directed at the Israelites not Moses. Indeed according to Exodus God made clear that although he would obliterate the idolaters, as regards Moses "of you I will make a great nation" (Exodus 32:10). Moses is to be rewarded.

But Moses is angry, His anger reflects the anger of God,

Of the anger of God, the Pope said:

"[T]he Lord responds and orders Moses to go down the mountain, revealing to him what the people were doing, and ending with these words: "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them: but of you I will make a great nation" (Exodus 32:10).

As with Abraham in regard to Sodom and Gomorrah, so also now God reveals to Moses what he intends to do, as though not wanting to act without his agreement (cf. Amos 3:7).

He says: "Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot."

In reality, this "let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot" is said precisely so that Moses might intervene and ask him not to do it, thereby revealing that God's desire is always to save.

As with the two cities in the time of Abraham, punishment and destruction, in which the wrath of God is expressed as the rejection of evil, point to the gravity of the sin committed; at the same time, the intercessor's request is meant to manifest the Lord's will to forgive.

This is the salvation of God, which involves mercy but together with it also exposes the truth of the sin, of the evil that is present, so that the sinner, aware of and rejecting his own sin, can allow himself to be forgiven and transformed by God.

Intercessory prayer makes divine mercy so active within the corrupted reality of the sinful man, that it finds a voice in the supplication of one who prays and through him becomes present where salvation is needed."

Pierre Lelu 1741 - 1810
God and Moses on the Summit of a Mountain
Pen brown ink brown wash lead pencil
24.6 x 30.1 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris

Tintoretto ca.1518-1594
The Eternal Father Appears to Moses
Oil on canvas, 370 x 265 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

The Pope then offered a detailed analysis of The Prayer of Moses. The analysis is of the account of the prayer in Exodus not in Deuteronomy

Jean-Léon Gérôme 1824 – 1904
Moses on Mount Sinai
1895 - 1900
Oil on canvas
74.3 x 125.7 cm
Private collection

It is of course a very dramatic moment. God has just announced that he will destroy the Israelites. The Project is to be terminated. A new one will start. There is to be a new beginning.

Moses` prayer is the defence lawyer`s plea in mitigation against the sentence of death being carried out on the people of Israel. But it is more than an advocate`s plea in Court. The advocate always maintains a professional detachment from the client. This is a plea from someone who is as the Pope said " a man stretched between two loves"

He loves God. He loves his people. Which one will take precedence ? Can the two loves be reconciled ? If his plea fails could anyone walk away and survive ?

The prayer, as the Pope said, "is wholly centred on the Lord's fidelity and grace".

The first submission advanced is quite astounding:

"He [Moses] at first relates the history of the redemption that God initiated with Israel's departure from Egypt, in order then to recall the ancient promise given to the Fathers.

The Lord wrought salvation by freeing his people from Egyptian slavery; why then -- Moses asks -- "should the Egyptians say: 'With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?'" (Exodus 32:12).

The work of salvation begun must be brought to completion; if God were to allow his people to perish, this could be interpreted as a sign of a divine inability to bring to completion the project of salvation. God cannot permit this: He is the good Lord who saves, the guarantor of life, he is the God of mercy and forgiveness, of liberation from sin which kills.

And so Moses appeals to God, to the interior life of God, against the exterior pronouncement"

In effect, he is saying to God: see what your enemies will say about you if you do this. You will be said to break your solemn promises, you had deceived the Israelites into following you when you had evil designs all along, and you cannot complete what you set out to do. This is not a God of mercy and forgiveness but one similar to those worshipped in other lands.

The Pope went on summarising Moses`s submissions:

"But then, Moses argues with the Lord, if his elect were to perish, even if they are guilty, he might appear incapable of conquering sin. And this is unacceptable.

Moses had a concrete experience of the God of salvation; he was sent as a mediator of divine liberation, and now, with his prayer, he voices a twofold concern -- concern for the fate of his people, but alongside this, concern for the honor that is owed to the Lord, for the truth of his name.

The intercessor, in fact, wants the people of Israel to be saved, because they are the flock that has been entrusted to him, but also because, in that salvation, the true reality of God is manifested.

Love of the brothers and love of God interpenetrate in intercessory prayer; they are inseparable. Moses, the intercessor, is a man stretched between two loves, which in prayer overlap into but one desire for good.

Moses then appeals to God's faithfulness, reminding him of his promises: "Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever'" (Exodus 32:13).

Moses recalls the founding history of [Israel's] origins, of the fathers of the people, and of their wholly gratuitous election in which God alone had had the initiative. Not by reason of their merits did they receive the promise, but through the free choice of God and of his love (cf. Deuteronomy 10:15).

And now, Moses asks that the Lord faithfully continue his history of election and salvation, by forgiving his people.

The intercessor does not make excuses for the sin of his people; he does not list presumed merits either of his people or of himself; rather, he appeals to the gratuitousness of God: a free God, who is total love, who never ceases to go in search of the one who has strayed, who always remains faithful to himself and offers the sinner the possibility of returning to him and of becoming, through forgiveness, just and capable of fidelity. Moses asks God to show himself stronger than sin and death, and by his prayer he brings about this divine self-revelation."

Wherein lies the greatness of the prayer ?

The Pope explained:

"A mediator of life, the intercessor shows solidarity with the people; desiring only the salvation that God himself desires, he renounces the prospect of becoming a new people pleasing to the Lord. The phrase that God had addressed to him, "but of you I will make a great nation," is not even taken into consideration by the "friend" of God, who instead is ready to take upon himself not only the guilt of his people, but also all of its consequences. ...

[H]e will say to the Lord: "But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin -- and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (verse. 32).

Through prayer, desiring God's desire, the intercessor enters ever more profoundly into the knowledge of the Lord and of his mercy, and becomes capable of a love that reaches even to the total gift of self...

Moses, who stands upon the mountain height face to face with God, who becomes the intercessor for his people, and who offers himself -- "blot me out""

It is an offer of self Oblation in expiation of the sin of his people.

Perhaps not surprisingly the idea of prayer and worship of God as self-oblation prompted Pope Benedict to reflect on one of his and that of Blessed Pope John Paul II`s favourite themes

(See for instance Pope Benedict`s allocution on Wednesday 7th January 2009 on Saint Paul (17): Spiritual Worship)

The Pope  invited further deeper reflection on Moses prayer as a prefiguration of Christ`s prayer on the Cross:

"the Fathers of the Church saw [in Moses and his prayer]the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguration of Christ, who on the heights of the cross truly stands before God, not only as a friend but as Son.

And not only does he offer himself -- "blot me out" -- but with his pierced heart he is blotted out, he becomes, as St. Paul himself says, sin; he takes our sins upon himself in order to spare us; his intercession is not only solidarity, but identification with us; he carries us all in his body.

And in this way his whole existence as man and as Son is a cry to the heart of God, it is forgiveness, but a forgiveness that transforms and renews praye, a prefiguration of Christ, who on the heights of the cross truly stands before God, not only as a friend but as Son.

And not only does [Christ] offer himself -- "blot me out" -- but with his pierced heart he is blotted out, he becomes, as St. Paul himself says, sin; he takes our sins upon himself in order to spare us; his intercession is not only solidarity, but identification with us; he carries us all in his body. And in this way his whole existence as man and as Son is a cry to the heart of God, it is forgiveness, but a forgiveness that transforms and renews Christ stands before the face of God and prays for me. ...

His prayer on the cross is contemporaneous with all men, contemporaneous with me: He prays for me, he suffered and suffers for me, he identified himself with me by taking on our human body and soul.

And he invites us to enter into his identity, making ourselves one body, one spirit with him, because from the heights of the cross he brought not new laws, tablets of stone, but rather he brought himself, his body and his blood, as the new Covenant.

He thereby makes us one blood with him, one body with him, identified with him. He invites us to enter into this identification, to be united with him in our desire to be one body, one spirit with him.

Let us pray to the Lord that this identification may transform us, may renew us, since forgiveness is renewal -- it is transformation."

Sinai found its fulfilment on two other mountains. First on the Mountain of the Transfiguration where Christ appeared to his Apostles shining with the glory of God. Moses and Elijah stood with him to testify. And lastly on the Mountain of Calvary the scene of the new Law and Covenant

And perhaps this is what Turner in his rather confused way meant in his depiction of the Old and New Covenants:

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis exhibited 1843
Oil on canvas
support: 787 x 787 mm frame: 1036 x 1036 x 115 mm
Tate Britain, London

"This triumphant explosion of light brilliantly exploits the warm side of the spectrum. It celebrates God's Covenant with Man after the Flood. The serpent in the centre represents the brazen serpent raised by Moses in the wilderness as a cure for plague. Here it symbolises Christ's redemption of Man in the New Covenant"

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