Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost


October 25, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

As I read the story of Moses’ death, I was compelled by the tenderness between God and Moses and how Moses surrendered all his hopes and relinquished his life into God’s arms to be carried to his burial ground.



Spirituality & Psychology

Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer

Eric Weiner

New York Times

A description of "thin places" around the world.

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What thresholds do you long to cross, and what thresholds does God long for you to cross?


Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.—Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of Joshua is one of several portions of scripture that describe liminal space.

Liminal comes from Latin—pertaining to a threshold—and speaks of places of transition. We have come to know these as “thin places” (see today’s spirituality and psychology lesson). The veil opens between our world and the next, sometimes, without warning.

The Israelites are literally on the threshold of the promised land when Moses has an encounter with God standing just outside of the entry into the land he had so longed to enter.

We, too, are on the threshold of a land we long to enter. This global pandemic is liminal space. Our present national election season puts us in liminal space. Our uncertainty about how we will transcend our divides nationally and globally place us in the hallway of liminal space.

In the exquisite story of Moses’ death, we listen in on arguably one of the most intimate exchanges that has ever occurred between God and humanity. The Lord shows Moses the promised land, from the highest point. God tells him—here it is. You will not enter it, but your descendants will possess it. Moses, still with a glimmer in his eye and a spring in his step, dies there. The Lord takes him and buries him. No one but God knows where Moses is buried. Moses ends his life with no one from his entire life present, save one. The only one who, in the end, could carry him to his burial ground. The only one who would bear his spirit to the holy of holies.

Moses dies in liminal space. I wonder sometimes if we undervalue such spaces, believing them to be “mere hallways,” when, truly, they are where the magic happens. I don’t know a moment more tender, more breathtaking, more final in its fulfillment of a person’s hopes and dreams than this brief time Moses shared with God as he crossed over from this life to the next. And yet, the dream Moses thought he had—of entering the promised land—was not fulfilled.

This is the way it is in life, I suppose. We set our sights on the land we long to enter. Perhaps we do enter some lands. But then, there are others we never do. Because, sometimes, God prefers to meet us just outside the borders, showing us all that we will not possess, and then carrying us across the threshold to the land he has had waiting for us all along.