One of the things I have noticed a lot of people saying over the last couple of months is what a relief it is to be coming out of the winter, which has been so difficult. I think it is not just the weather but also so much of what has happened over the last several months, between the economy, scandals and everything else: nothing but bad news and we are all tired of it. We need a fresh start and new hope.
During the time of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the most extraordinary event in history—the death and resurrection of Christ—many of the readings are taken from the book of Exodus which recalls the people of Israel being set free from a time of suffering. The people of Israel also represent all people who are open to God. The story of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15)which we have today, is the wonderful encounter Moses has with God which has a lot to say to us today.
First of all Moses sees what is basically a contradiction: a bush that is on fire but is not being burnt. This doesn’t make any sense to us and so it is an ideal symbol of God, because in many ways God does not make sense to us, or to put it differently, God is totally beyond our understanding. God is good and all-powerful, and yet we see suffering everywhere. God speaks to us and yet we do not see or hear him. When you find yourself getting frustrated with trying to understand what God is, remember the symbol of the burning bush.
Secondly God identifies himself as the God who has been there from the beginning: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In other words, God is not just making his first appearance in history to Moses, but God is the same God who has always been there throughout the centuries looking after his people and that includes us.
Then the Lord says something that I think all of us need to hear at this point in time: ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people... I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up... to a land where milk and honey flow.’ This is also what God is saying to us right now. He is well aware of all that is causing us to suffer: people losing their jobs everywhere, people losing their faith because of scandals, young people taking their own lives. And God intends to lead us out of our suffering to a better place, to a better time. Throughout history this is what God has always done for those who are willing to respond, and we are just the same.
The Lord God continually offer us a way of life that will help us to move forward, to have hope, and to see purpose in our lives. For our part we must respond to this call, because God is not going to force it on us. Each generation is invited to respond to God’s invitation to follow him. It is never a given.
The people of Israel spent forty years wandering through the desert before they came to the Promised Land. They weren’t ready for it when they set out. The Promised Land is not just a piece of land, but it is also symbolic of the state of mind that God wants to bring us to. The Lord wants us to see the world through his eyes. He wants us to be able to see the beauty in it and in all that He has given us.
I think that today’s first reading is especially appropriate for the times we are living in. We need hope right now. We need things to look forward to and God is telling us that He is with us and that He will lead us out of the time of suffering that we are going through, just as He has always done. For our part we must try to respond and to go on listening to God.
I need to remind myself that if I only listen to what the news programmes are saying, I won’t hear God speaking to me. If I want to know what God is saying I must read the Scriptures, and take some time to be quiet and listen. Otherwise I will only hear the voices of the world, which most of the time are not speaking to us about God. They will generally bring us down, because they are only telling us about what is wrong and what is awful around us. There is also so much good happening, but we usually don't hear it because it doesn't sell papers.
The next time you find yourself getting depressed with the news and all the terrible things that are going on in the world, turn off the news and just be quiet, or even better read the Scriptures and you will notice that what God has to say to us is very different and it is also very uplifting, because it is saying that God is with us right now, that God is well aware of our suffering, right now, and that God wants to lead us out of suffering into a better place. That is why we need to keep turning back to hear the voice of God.
‘I have seen the miserable state of my people... I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up... to a land where milk and honey flow.’