Blazing but not burnt

Published on 22 Mar 2019
A man standing in front of a large fire





It was blazing but it was not being burnt. God spoke to Moses from the intensity of a fire which burns brightly but does not consume. God made himself present in a conflagration which was not a destruction.

On the Third Sunday of Lent we meditate on God’s presence in our life, on what he is saying to us. We pray to the Lord who purifies us without destroying us. God loves us all intensely. He speaks to us sometimes amid what we might understand as ruin and destruction. God speaks to us from where everything seems to be being lost and asserts that in that seeming loss he is alive and sharing his life with us.

Jesus Christ, our dearest friend

We prepare during Lent for the commemoration of the Passion and for Easter.  We brace ourselves to remember in detail the destruction of Jesus Christ, our dearest friend, God-made- human.  We also get ready to pray our way through a great renewal. Jesus will cry out consummatum est.   His life will have been consumed. However, phoenix-like he will arise from the ashes of destruction. We learn something about the Resurrection from the account in Exodus of Moses’ encounter with the One-who-is. 

Today, taught by Moses and by the new Moses, Jesus Christ, we look forward to Easter. Our celebration of the Resurrection will be a thanksgiving for the Lord restored to us.  It will also be an expression of our faith that from the fiery intensity of our losses we too will rise again to enjoy the undiminished life of the God-who-is.

The place on which you stand is holy ground

I am God….Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.  This awe-inspiring epiphany took place on a working day. Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro his father-in-law. Suddenly, in the midst of our ordinary activities, we can become alert to the divine presence. We were doing something else but suddenly we are aware that God is very close to us. We pray conscious that we are on sacred ground.

There can be a kind of curiosity in our approach to the sacred: I must go and look at this strange sight. But our meeting with God is not some superficial browsing.  Moses was roaming with Jethro’s flock. There was something intentional about Moses finding himself on holy ground.  He led his flock to the far side of wilderness and came to the mountain of God. We circle around God. We approach cautiously. Eventually we pluck up courage to go to where the Lord might speak to us.

Lent permits our careful reconnaissance of the spiritual landscape. Here God makes himself known.  Here the Law is given.  Here God’s inextinguishable love shows itself.  We are as attentive as we can be. Yet we acknowledge that God will reveal himself to us in his own time and in his own way.  We search: but God finds us. Our noticing that we are on holy ground sharpens our sensitivity.  We are being overtaken. God is pursuing us and we want to be caught.

It was blazing but it was not being burnt 

There is plenty of destruction in our life.  Much effort and time are wasted. We have lost a lot. Our bereavements sometimes feel like the cruellest deprivations. God reassures us that nothing good is lost forever. God recapitulates the life of his Son and with it the lives of everyone else. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus everything is summed up and renewed. It was blazing but it was not being burnt. 

Lent started with a mess. Our crossing ourselves with ashes was an acknowledgement of our great need of God’s help.  The ashes were also a sign of sorrow for sin. It is important that we do not remain poking around in the smoking remains of our past mistakes. Lent is a time for heeding God and amending life. 

A wholesome clear-out is welcome

Our faith in the Resurrection, renewed by our Lenten preparation, is a confidence that what is valuable and has been lost shall be found again. It is our faith that those who have died will rise again. Yet we are on a journey through the wilderness in which we are content to discard much and to simplify and to be purified. A wholesome clear-out is welcome. There are losses which need not be made good.

In Lent we let our longing for God flourish more than any of our other emotions.  We open our evil desires to purification, penance, mercy and even destruction. We wish to free our good desires that they may light up the sky. In the middle of the fire of our wanting and willing may we like Moses find God

Peter Gallagher SJ