Did you notice where Moses met God in today’s 1st Reading? (Exodus 34:4-9) Remember that the people he is with have lived all their lives in Egypt. Most, if not all, may have seen a pyramid, but they have never ever seen a mountain – least of all a mountain whose top is hidden in the clouds! Moses tells them that this is a place where God is especially present, and he walks up the mountain and disappears into the cloud! They remember this for the rest of their days – their fear, their anxiety, their hope – and they pass the story on down through the generations. But they also explain to their children that this mysterious God, this invisible power met in the mists of a high mountain, so terrible, so great, is revealed to them by Moses, when he comes down, as a God “of tenderness and compassion” who will go with them on their journey ; not as a statue made of wood or stone, but in words that teach them how to love, how to be kind and good and faithful and honest and to avoid evil. The 10 Commandments.
As time passes, many begin to teach this not as a revelation of God and his love, but as a strict rule to make people behave themselves. But others, and most of all and finally Jesus, teach it as it was originally taught – as a call to love God and our fellow men and women as much as God loves us. So we heard in our Gospel (John 3:16-18) “God loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him… may have eternal life.”
The Moses story reminds us that our God is in essence a hidden God, so different from us, and from the universe he has created, that he is actually unknowable – a frightening and awesome power beyond our comprehension. The people expected Moses to tell them that : but instead God proclaims himself to Moses as a God who is as near to people as is possible. The God, who is hard and strong, fearsome in his demand for goodness and truth, is also tender and compassionate. Now how can that be? How can God be both so distant, and so close, so far away, and yet so close to us that Jesus teaches us to call him “Father”?
Last week I told you that the Holy Spirit is often described as being like water, the soft rain from heaven, but another great Christian from the past goes further. St Irenaeus teaches that we are like flour, where each grain ground from wheat remains dry and separate unless it has water. Then when water is added each grain becomes soft enough to merge with the water and with all the other grains of flour to become the soft dough that can be baked into bread and can feed the world. This surely is a description of God as tenderness, working inside us with his love to break down our barriers and make us humans love one another as he loves us.
Compassion is the other word of revelation to Moses. It means, yes, that God is passionate about the universe he has created. It is a creation made simply because God is love, because God within himself is in some way a relationship of love. But that little prefix “com” – com-passion – says a lot more, because it means passion with someone or something. In effect it means, God with us, God alongside us, as our friend and companion on the way. That is what Moses asks of God in our reading, “Let my Lord come with us, I beg… and adopt us as your heritage.”
So there we have it. God is the God of mystery – the invisible and awesome power underlying the universe and yet separate and so different from it. We call this God, the Father. Yet this God is also a God who works deep within us, like water absorbed into our system to soften us and make us a people of love. We call this God the Holy Spirit. Yet this God is also a God who is with us and alongside us as someone whom we can understand as a friend. We call him in this form – God the Son, Jesus who saves us.
These three ways in which God reveals himself to us do not make God three. God is always one and there is no other. These are three ways in which we meet the one God. God – the mysterious power underlying the Universe – God the Father. God – the power we meet deep within ourselves – God the Holy Spirit. God – whom we meet in Jesus – a man like us – God the Son. We call this one God the Holy Trinity, and as Christians we always pray to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. God within us, the Holy Spirit, empowering us to meet Jesus and through him, to offer ourselves in love and service to God the Father. As St Paul says in our 2nd reading “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen! (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)