Something has sparked off one of my favourite images of the Ascension of the Lord ... a handing-over of responsibility for the future growth and development of the Church, the...
“And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. … And Moses made haste to bow his head … and worshipped.”
These words are recorded in TODAY’S FIRST SCRIPTURE READING [EXODUS 34: 4b – 6. 8 – 9].
Therein we are faced with two basic truths. Firstly, our Christian God is a
MYSTERY. As a mystery he manifests mysterious characteristics – personality traits which are never fully known or understood. One example is contained and clearly shown in TODAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 3: 16 – 18]. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son … God sent the Son … that the world might be saved through him.“
Surely, in itself, God’s love, so dramatically expressed, is a mystery? In addition the whole process of this ‘giving and sending’ is mysterious. In other words it is simply impossible to unravel or even fully appreciate this sort of self-giving love.
Secondly, the Exodus extract indicates what must always be the first two characteristics of our response to this ‘mysterious mystery’ – the bowing of our heads and worship. They are two entirely different actions. I am able to bow my head (too often nothing more than a passing nod of recognition) without any sense of, or commitment to, worship. Yet, the bowing of our heads must always precede worship of God. I simply cannot truly
WORSHIP unless I clearly recognise and accept that I am in the presence of SOMEONE of supreme and all-powerful importance, value and capacity to love, send and give in a manner beyond my comprehension – someone who is a ‘mysterious mystery’. OUR CHRISTIAN GOD IS, HOWEVER, SOMEONE – NOT SOMETHING. This is expressed by Saint Paul in TODAY’S SECOND SCRIPTURE [2 CORINTHIANS 13: 11 – 13]. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.“
A real part of our common inability to really and fully worship God is the fact that, as a people, we do not cope well with mystery or the mysterious. We like to know the details, all the nitty-gritty, how to join the dots together, how it works and how we are able to operate the mechanics. We have an almost neurotic need to be in control of the
ON and OFF switches – as well as knowing the safeguards against damage if ‘the works’ do not operate in the way we want. What we forget or overlook is the very fact that unless our God is a mystery and frequently acts in mysterious ways HE WOULD NOT BE GOD. He would be human – and in some way under our control and much more comfortable to live with. What we must all learn is the lesson to allow God to be God and humans to be human. Then, and then only, are the two able to meet. The intended starting place of meeting is in WORSHIP to which we come with heads bowed to the earth.
We belong to, and are creatures of, the earth. If we rely on powerful experiences to sustain our faith, then it will be hard to last the course. We can only become sensitive to our Christian God by immersing ourselves in the everyday challenges of our real, actual and human lives. Here we might profit by recalling the Genesis account
(32: 22 – 32) of Jacob wrestling with God.
If we return to our reading from the Book of Exodus, it is valuable to notice the mysterious manner in which “the Lord descended“. He came to the place of meeting with Moses “in the cloud“. There it was that God “proclaimed the name of the Lord.”
IT WAS THE CLOUD THAT PROCLAIMED. The cloud was the Lord. The Lord was the cloud. He wasMYSTERY and proclaimed mysteriously. Both Old and New Testaments have repeated and frequent references to God’s presence and activity in and through the cloud.
We can know many things about the clouds appearing in our skies – how they are formed, the manner in which they often act. However, these natural clouds remain mysterious in so many ways. In the end they appear, produce and manifest themselves unpredictably and not according to the plan of which we are aware. Most of us know well the occupational hazards of weather forecasters! As Jesus told Nicodemus
(John 3: 8 & 10) – “the wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going … is this famous teacher of Israel ignorant of such things?“
We began this reflection with the Gospel verse – “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son … God sent the Son.” Let us end with the full mystery: “I will send from the Father, the Spirit of truth that issues from the Father … I will send him to you.”
(John 15: 26 & 16: 8).