What is your strongest memory of the holiday season? Or perhaps a memory just of Thanksgiving that stands out in your mind? For many of us those memories involve a certain food–your great aunt’s sweet potato casserole or grandma’s famous pumpkin pie or the turkey that your dad tried deep frying one year. For others it is a memory that involves a tradition like saying something you are thankful for at the table before you eat or watching a football game while everyone falls asleep on the couches. But for some of us, the holiday season is marked by memories of those who once joined us in the celebration but are not with us anymore. And this makes the holiday season difficult to walk through.
In our passage today, we find a great reminder of the goodness of God even in a season of mourning for the people of Israel. Moses has followed God for many years and has lead a whining and obstinate people (surely that won’t be anyone we know this holiday season) through the wilderness and to the doorstep of the land that God has promised to them. Unfortunately, the consequences of Moses’ own actions have caught up with him and he won’t be allowed to walk into the land with Israel. God takes him up on the mountain to show him the land of promise. He lets Moses catch a glimpse of what he is about to do before he is “gathered to his people.” This is a hard moment for Israel. They take a whole month to mourn their loss. But in the middle of that pain there is still the promise of God’s goodness. As they mourn, God passes leadership on to Joshua, and they are reminded that God is still with them and he is still in the business of fulfilling his promises. Yes, they will mourn that loss and remember those that had been with them in the wilderness, but we can still hold true to the God of goodness whose love for us is greater than we can imagine.