Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. – Exodus 33:11
Embedded in the loveliness of this image—God and Moses hanging out in the tent of meeting, chilling and catching up like a couple of old pals—are two of the saddest words in the English language: “used to.” They hint at loss, decline, a present less desirable than the past, a longing for the good old days.
When times got tough, the “used to’s” were the Israelites’ go-to coping mechanism. Wandering in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty and free, they waxed nostalgic for the three skimpy squares of their slave days in Egypt. As if God didn’t have something much better in store for them.
But now the Israelites and God are on the big-time outs—all on account of that golden calf thing. That really hurt God’s feelings, so she told the people to pack their bags and get their stiff-necked selves out of her precious sight.
In their shame and fear, the people turn to their “used to’s.” They remember when they and God were so tight that Moses and the Holy One did face time together. This sweet memory gives Moses the courage to appeal to God’s tender mercy, to remind him that they are his chosen ones, to beg for another chance at divine favor.
Before you know it, God’s unfailing love has gotten the best of her—again— and Moses is heading back up the mountain. When he returns he’ll have another set of stone tablets, a new promise from God, and a face shining bright as the sun.
This interlude between Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday is a perfect time to consider our “used to’s” and rejoice that God’s good graces are always available to us. Forgiveness and new life are ours for the asking; all we have to do is turn around.
Remember when you and Jesus were BFFLs, when your prayer life fed you like so much manna, and Sunday morning worship was like face time with God? Turn around, dear one. Come home. With your face set on God, the future can be even brighter than the past.
Your face, O God, do I seek. Let me not be put to shame. Renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
Author Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.