In the Jubilee year of 2000 Pope John Paul II made an historic visit to the Holy Land to commemorate 2000 years of Christianity. On the 26th February he visited St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai which is the scene of today’s first reading where Moses encountered God in the burning bush. Reflecting on this the Pope said: “How many have come to this place before us! Here the People of God pitched their tents (cf. Exodus 19:2); here the prophet Elijah took refuge in a cave (cf. 1 Kings 19:9); here the body of the martyr Catherine found a final resting-place; here a host of pilgrims through the ages have scaled what Saint Gregory of Nyssa called ‘the mountain of desire’ (The Life of Moses, II, 232); here generations of monks have watched and prayed.
The burning bush was the beginning of our Jewish-Christian heritage. It is here that Moses receives his vocation to free his people from slavery. The great Exodus has its roots in this all-important moment. The focus however is on God. There are three special points to note about the God of Moses at the burning bush. First of all, God is awesome and mysterious. Secondly, this God is a liberating God. Finally, this same God is with us.
The burning bush that is ablaze yet is not consumed highlights the awesomeness of God. Then Moses is told to come no nearer, to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground and he covers his face afraid to look at God. Today we rattle off the Catechism that says God is all-present; all-loving; all-knowing and so on. These are nice and expressive words but do they really hit home to us how great and awesome God is and how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of a living God? There is a game park in Hoedspruit close enough to where I use to live in Tzaneen. You can take a morning walk with a lion there – if you so wish! They assure you that the lion is domesticated and will not touch you. Still the game keeper takes a gun – just in case. The temptation today, in our pride, is to domesticate God and make God into something manageable, someone that will fix things for us when we are in trouble. I’m not asking you to turn back the clock to pre-Vatican II days but people then had great reverence for God. You never spoke in Church because it was God’s house. Moses got it right. He covered his face, afraid to look at God.
The next surprise for Moses is that this mysterious God is also a liberating God. God tells him: ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them.’ Moses must have been dumbfounded by these words. He himself had tried to liberate his people but failed. Now God is going to deliver them himself. These words are as true today as they were three thousand years ago. God still sees the miserable state many of his people are in and he means to deliver them. He is aware of our personal troubles, our demons, our sickness and suffering. With every calamity that happens God is there hurting with us and eager to deliver and heal us.
Finally, God’s name reveals his closeness to us, despite being so above and beyond us. When Moses is told to go and tell his people he wants to know who sent him and we get that very mysterious answer. God said to Moses, ‘I Am who I Am’. God didn’t say ‘I was’ so that we need to always look to the past to find him. He didn’t say ‘I will be’ so that we must continually wait to see God in the future. God is ‘I AM’. He is present to us today, with us today, fighting for us on our side today. God, who reveals his name as “I AM”, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them. The divine name, “I Am” expresses God’s faithfulness. Even when we are unfaithful, God is always faithful. Steadfast is his love for us.
Let’s conclude with St John Paul at the foot of Mount Sinai. After mentioning the huge number of pilgrims that have visited the sight of the burning bush, the Pope concludes by saying: “We humbly follow in their footsteps, to ‘the holy ground’ where the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob commissioned Moses to set his people free (cf. Exodus 3:5-8).” The holy ground is now where we stand because God is visiting us here today. In Jesus God continually visits his people to redeem and save them. Lent is a special space where we can do this with greater purpose and commitment. Let us welcome this great God, who knows all our difficulties, into our lives today. Let us always remember that his name is ‘I AM’, the God who is always with us today. Today is the day of salvation.
Sunday, 28th February 2016