1Then 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, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain – that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees – as far as Zoar. 4The 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.” 5Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9Joshua 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.
10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11He 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, 12and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
Have you watched TV recently and been alarmed by how close people are standing to one another? They’re not social distancing! We can keep distant for a while; but one of the things that we can never let go of entirely is the physical presence of another. This is true of the hugs of friends or family, or even just the commonplace handshakes with colleagues. Part of being human means this desire to connect with each other in reality—in the physical world. When Moses appoints Joshua to take his place, then, he does so with a familiar gesture: a laying on of hands. Moses places his hands on Joshua’s shoulder and confers wisdom, just as we do with our elders today. Israel grieves because Moses is lost; yet something of Moses remains alive in the physical presence of Joshua who received his touch. On the one hand Moses is irreplaceable; on the other hand he lives in the work of the people. On the one hand the presence of God in Jesus Christ is irreplaceable; on the other hand we who receive God’s Spirit embody the presence of God in our own lives.
God, we thank you for the gift we can never repay, in the eternal presence of Christ’s Spirit. Help us as we live, embodying your grace in the way we worship you, and in the ways we love and serve our neighbors, in Christ’s name. Amen.