O Lord of lords, and ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law of Sinai.
Come with your outstretched arm and ransom us.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
You can listen to this antiphon, sung in its original Latin form, here.
When we think of the story of Moses and the burning bush, we tend to assume Moses stumbled upon it, while he was tending his father-in-law’s flock, completely by accident. Careful reading of the text tells us that is not strictly correct. Moses quite deliberately “led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (Exodus 3:1) Whether Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, or the name of another peak in the vicinity, on the Sinai peninsula, is immaterial, the point is that Moses quite deliberately, chose to make his way here, to a place known to be holy and set apart. And it’s no small undertaking – Moses has to trek on foot across miles of the inhospitable Sinai desert to get to Horeb. It’s certainly not “a walk in the park”, especially with a large flock of sheep that are not your own, in tow.
Moses has a hunger for God. He has no idea that God will make himself known so dramatically in the flames that leap among the branches without consuming them. But his instinct has been to come to a place and a context where history, faith, folk belief and superstition all indicate that the presence of God is real and, of course, his hunch is correct.
It’s important to remember Moses’ situation at this point in his life. Things have not been going well. After his silver-spoon childhood in Pharaoh’s palace, he has grown up seeing his own people worked and maltreated as slave labour. He knows enough of his real origins to feel uncomfortable at that and when he sees an Egyptian beating the hell out of a Hebrew slave, he intervenes and kills the Egyptian. Word gets round and Pharaoh is seriously annoyed with Moses and wants him killed. As a result Moses has to flee into exile – he has become penniless, homeless and future-less.
Only by pure chance (and a willingness to lend a helping hand to some pretty girls), does he secure a place in Jethro’s household. In macro terms, everything has gone pear-shaped for him – he even names his baby son, “Gershom” as a statement of the fact. The name “Gershom” means “I have become an alien.” But despite the downturn in his circumstances, Moses has retained his curiosity, his openness and most importantly of all, his faith and hope.
Linking Jesus to the God who appears in the burning bush, emphasises something about God and something about us. It emphasises that Jesus is one with the great “I AM”, the foundation of all life and the force at the heart of the universe; the one who is always present but whom we do not always see, in the fabric of ordinary life. It emphasises that encountering God has quite a bit to do with whether we are hungry for that, or not.
Something to read: Exodus 2:11-3:20
Something to wonder about: When things in life don’t go according to plan, we are often tempted to give up on faith, the Church and other places and contexts associated with God. How might remembering the story of Moses affect that response in us?
Something to take it further: Visit a church or other holy place “where prayer has been valid”, as TS Eliot puts it in “Little Gidding”. If you like, take your shoes off, as Moses did when he saw the burning bush, and be quiet for a short while. How does the symbolic gesture make you feel? What do you notice about your environment, about yourself?