The Burning Bush


Exodus. 3: 1-15

“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Exodus. 3:1

Why did Moses chose to lead the Priest of Mideon’s sheep ‘beyond the wilderness’ towards Mount Horeb. Was he simply seeking better grazing beyond the areas he already knew? Was he aware that Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai, was called the Mountain of God? Was he seeking out Horeb out of idle curiosity or did he find himself on the Holy Mountain by chance? Regardless, as we know, he did find God. The God who would commission him to go down into Egypt and repeat this journey to Sinai once more, but this time as a shepherd of an entirely different kind of sheep, a strange flock – the children of God.

Whilst wandering on the Holy Mountain Moses something catches his eye – a desert bush that seemed to be on fire and yet not consumed. He turns from his path to investigate this strange phenomena – and the history of the world turned. Burning but not consumed: a creature radiating the glory of God but not destroyed; a womb containing the eternal Word of God which even the universe could not contain and yet not destroyed (as the Orthodox Hymn says: “ blessed is the womb that contained that which the universe could not”); a true son of Eve who held in himself the fullness of the Godhead – God and yet Man; a universe of material and time sustained by the infinite and the eternal; The ceaseless movement of Three who remain unchanged and One; a people who die to the world and yet rise again to new life; bread and wine of time and place and yet the timeless communion with all time and all space; a Prophet who stuttered and strayed and yet became the Shepherd and mouthpiece of the Almighty. A bush engulfed with splendid light and roaring heat and yet - still, silent and unchanged.

From this threshold, this door, this angel, this mouth, comes the voice of God. Moses is called by name There is no doubt in hearing his name, no confusion that he has imagined it, for the name comes immediately a second time. He responds, approaches, and obeys the command to remove his sandals ‘for you are standing on holy ground.’ Then out of awe and fearful to look upon God, he hides his face.

And with what kind of God did he stand before with his face covered? “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” A God of relationships; a God who interacts with the ancestors and with Moses; a God of history and of the present moment. A God who cares; who sees; who listens; who has compassion; who hears; who sets free; and who leads into ‘green pastures’ Psalm 23:2 “I have observed the misery of my People”; “I have heard their cry”; “I know their sufferings”; “I have come to deliver them”; “to bring them out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”.

Moses stands at the edge of the abyss: God has called him to be the agent through whom God will accomplish his plan. He stammers out his fear and trepidation “Who am I that I shall go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” With what words does God reassure him? The words of relationship, of commitment “I will be with you.” No sign is given that Moses is not mad, is not suffering from exposure or the heat of the Arabian sun, instead is given the promise that he shall only know that God is who He says He is when, in the future, he shall once again stand upon the Holy Mountain with the children of God gathered at its base and “you shall worship God on this mountain”. God will be worshipped at Sinai, the law shall descend from the peak of smoke and fire – but not yet, not for a very long time. When it does occur this future reality of freedom shall confirm the promise of freedom from the past. You shall know the truth of the path on which you tread by where it will lead you.

Moses still has one last objection before he is pulled over the chasm into a new world and a new life: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?

God said to Moses, “I am Who I Am.” Yahweh. Being. ‘He causes to be’. ‘He causes to be what comes into existence’. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious33:19I say what I say”. Ezek. 12:25 No title is given, no proper name, no magical formula – instead only the attribute God His relationship with creation. Not who He is but rather what He does. God is the God of the ancestors, the God of history, to God of the present moment, the God who will lead His people into freedom, the God who cares, the God who Is.

Why do we come to gather here on the morning of the Resurrection? Do we come out of idle curiosity? Do we faintly remember a promise we heard long ago that there is beyond the wilderness a Holy Mountain? Is there a folk memory that once upon a time God was to found here? Did we come to find God or simply seeking better pastures?

I put it to you, that rather the question is - can we turn aside to dare approach the bush that is alight and yet whole? The one who was God in Man – burning but not devoured ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us’? John 1.1 &14 The Scriptures through whom speaks the word that can make “our hearts burn within us”? The bread and wine that is his Body and his Blood? This Jesus known in the breaking of bread? This mystery that burns upon the Altar but remains whole and makes us whole? Can we remember that ‘the place on which you are standing is holy ground’?

Christ tells us that “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake shall find it.Mathew 16: 24-25 If Moses had wanted his life to remain his own, he should have fled from the Holy Mountain back into the wilderness, he should have turned away from the Burning Bush and run. To remain is to risk losing the life you knew. Those seeking better pastures for themselves will be called to lead those suffering, those crying out in the world, those who are oppressed and needy to a better home. To stay on the Holy Mountain and dare to speak with God is to lose one’s life. Yet Christ promises us that “Those who lose their life for my sake shall find it”.

Moses came to Horeb as a stranger in a strange land, a refugee, the shepherd of another man’s sheep – and not just another man but a Priest of a foreign God, a man who could not speak with his own words. He came up to Horeb out of the wilderness. He went down from Horeb as God’s Shepherd, as God’s voice, as God’s Prophet of a freedom yet to come. Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to lose our life so as to gain it, to cease living for the smaller concerns of just our own lives and find new life in the calling to serve in the vastness of God’s family. As Saint Paul tells us ‘It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.Gal. 2:20 He calls us to burn with blazing light and roaring heat. To die and so to live. To burn and yet not be consumed. I end with one of the stories of the earliest monks, the Desert Fathers:

“Lot went to Abba Joseph and said, “Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer and meditation, and quiet, and as far as I can, I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?” Then the hermit stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten flames of fire, and he said, “If you will, you can become all flame.”