I’m doing this little test on myself. You can try it too, if you want.
Recite the 10 Commandments.
Ready? Set? Go….
If you’re like me you are at this moment hearing the voice of Charlton Heston, covering dual roles as both Moses and the voice of God, pronouncing each commandment as a flaming finger shoots from the heavens and burns symbols onto stone tablets, roaring sound effects swooshing and retreating behind the booming vocal track.
As I am preparing Easter dinner at our house or at Gram’s, inevitably someone is watching The Ten Commandments. After this many years I should have this memorized. I can see it, and feel it, and hear the “Thou Shalt’s”…but I have to admit when I wrote out the basics of the ones I recalled off the top of my head, I earned probably a C. Maybe a C- even. Seriously, Cori? We are talking the basics here!
So here, in full disclosure of my frailties as a C average Christian who prays to God every day and attends church every Sabbath, asks a blessing on every meal and who partakes with regular soberness of the Holy Sacrament…here is what I wrote in my one minute see-what-you-can-spit-out-of-your-brain self test. Before you read on, I challenge you (if anyone is reading this besides my sisters – and I’ll bet they get all of them)… test yourself and see if you know all ten. One minute. And no peeking! Go back up to that blank list of 10. Ready…set…go!
Here’s my scribbled list:
No Idols (graven images)
Not bear false witness
Here’s what I missed:
Lord’s name in vain
Let me say here that according to a United Press International article "Only 68 of 200 Anglican priests polled could name all Ten Commandments, but half said they believed in space aliens.” I’m just sayin’.
I think it’s kind of ironic they play the Ten Commandments on network TV at Easter time. Jesus isn’t anywhere to be seen, except maybe in that finger of God. A long time after Moses lived, Christ came to change that old Law. He came to thank Moses, and then to override some of the misproportioned rules that had evolved through generations. It’s said He brought a new law. A change; however hard change may be for us underlings. He came to give us, to some degree, autonomy. He came to advance us to a higher standard. The deeper the understanding, and the more mature the participant, the less “law” is needed. If I love God as I should love Him, which first requires me to know Him on a deep and personal level; and I love my neighbor – my family – my friends and my enemies, with that same level of love as the first commandment; then all else should basically fall into place and I don’t need those more specific rules. They’re still rules, I just don’t need them written out for me. I will naturally respect the right to life; cherish my covenant relationships; speak and act with honesty and integrity; be grateful for what I have and don’t have and not crave what is not mine. I will understand the value of a day “set apart” from my worldly existence, and I will choose naturally to make that a day to renew my focus on the divine. I will be grateful for and represent my heritage with dignity, understanding the divine nature of the family unit. And I will revere the name of my maker, using it appropriately and with honor and use it only in addressing Him or speaking respectfully about Him.
(In that regard, I’ve always been a little shocked that good Christian people will casually take the Lord’s name in vain, even in conversation on the steps of the church after Mass. It’s one of the 10 most basic commandments, isn’t it? Kind of shocks me. But I shock myself with some of the stuff I do, so we’re all good company for each other, no?)
The sounds and images of the movie The Ten Commandments are now a fixture of Easter tradition for me. That’s fine. But what I see at Easter time, not on the TV screen but in the quiet places of my heart, is a scene in that upper chamber in an anonymous building miles and millennia away from here, where a cluster of men have gathered for Passover Seder. The air is scented with fragrant oil mixed with the aroma of suckling lamb roasted on a spit in the open fireplace downstairs. There is the rumbling chatter of men coming together in a common cause, embracing and exclaiming as they recognize each other, reunited from their various travels. Into this gathering a single man rises, and as he rises a hush falls over the room. He smiles, moves to a small table in the corner by the doorway, lifts a clay pitcher of water and tips it above the basin set on the floor at the threshold. A sense of surprise buzzes over the heads of the guests as they look at each other, querying with their lifted eyebrows. He tucks a linen towel into the sash around his waist and bends before Peter.
You know the rest. Things were turned upside down. The master washed the feet of the servants. The sacrificial lamb eaten in remembrance of the past became instead a foreshadowing of events to soon follow. The creator submitted to the created. So much that was traditional and sacred was turned upside down. And a new commandment was given.
When I made my list of commandments I made the mistake of putting the New Commandment second on the list, which of course threw my numbers off and made for 11 instead of 10.
Rules are good things. It’s good for a child to know she should not lie. Good to know precisely what we should and should not do as we are learning.
But I have put away my childish things. Not that I am always happy about this…happy in the giddy pleasurable sense of the word. I have willingly put up the part of me that needs to always be told what to do and what not to do. Without cap and gown, or perhaps, in a deeply symbolic sense, fully dressed in cap and gown: I have graduated. My Jesus spoke at commencement. I may have expected a long and brilliant intellectual academic rendering of philosophy and wisdom. What I got…what we got…was simple enough for a child to understand:
A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13: 34, 35