There is Moses, there is God, and there are the people of Israel, and the relationship between them is constantly being re-negotiated.
God has chosen the Israelites. He is the god of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. But in all their years of Egypt, the people lost touch with their God, and the story of the wilderness is a story of learning over and over again who God is for them and how they can trust the one true God, the invisible God, who comes and goes. But every now and then, they lose it completely. They want to replace God with a statue of a calf, and that makes God really angry with them.
The relationship between God and the Israelites makes us think about the relationship between God and the church. How does God look at us, do you think? How do you think God feels about us?
Then there is the relationship between Moses and the Israelites. He has to convince them to follow him, to leave the oppression and violence of Egypt for the uncomfortable journey through the wilderness to the uncertain future of freedom in a promised land. Moses is their leader. Moses solves their problems. When things go wrong, they blame Moses. Moses stands between the people and God. Moses brings them God’s promises and God’s instructions. Moses pleads for them when God is angry. There is an extent to which they begin to put Moses on a pedestal, so that when he disappears up the mountain for too long, they need to find something else to put on that pedestal.
But today’s story is about the relationship between God and Moses. Right from the start, Moses was a bit of a reluctant player. God reveals himself to Moses in a pretty awesome way in the burning bush, but it is all too much for Moses. He gave excuses to God about why he was entirely the wrong person to lead God’s people into liberation. The relationship is pretty one-sided to begin with. God knows Moses personally, but God’s desire for friendship with Moses far exceeds Moses’ love for God. Moses also has to learn to trust in God, but in an even deeper way. And Moses has to discover that with God’s help he can do amazing things.
Today’s story marks a point in the deepening of the relationship between God and Moses. Moses wants to go beyond being known by God. Now he wants to know God for himself. “Show me your glory!” he asks of God. And that’s how it starts – wanting to know God, the desire to get a little closer. After that comes the asking: please God, show me your glory, I pray.
And God explains how no human being can look at the face of God and live, God’s glory is just too much for human kind to bear. It’s like looking at the sun – you can’t do it, you know the sun is there and you appreciate the light and warmth, but you can’t stare at the heart of the sun any more than you can behold the face of God. The only way in which Moses can see something of who God is, is for him to go in to a narrow crevice in the rock of the mountain. There, God’s hand will protect him and he will be able to glimpse God’s back as he passes by.
So this is how Moses comes to experience God, squeezed into a cave, with the weight of the mountain above him, peering through a crack. And this is where he meets God, up close and personal, in the closest and most intimate encounter of his life. Rays of light shine through the crack, so bright, so glorious. But it is only as God passes by and Moses looks back, can he see that yes, that was the presence of God. The moment itself is too intense, he is just watching and listening and feeling and experiencing. Afterwards, when the presence of God has moved on, he can assess what he has seen and recall his own interior reaction.
And that is how we see God, through the cracks in our lives. The light shines into our darkness, and when it’s all over, we realise that God was there, and we are staring at his disappearing back. It’s like the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem”: There is a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in.
Moses’ experience of God helps him grow in faith and wisdom. It gives him the assurance that God is with him and with the Israelites on this perilous journey to the promised land, with all its hazards and difficulties. But it is never just for his own sake. His meeting with God spills over to the people. From this point, his face shines with the reflected light of God. It helps the Israelites in their walk with God. Moses has to wear a veil, his face is so bright, and the people cannot bear so much light. Moses first encountered God in a burning bush. He has come a long way. Now the light shines through him.
The story of the developing relationship between Moses and God makes us think about the relationship between God and each of us individually. What is your relationship with God? How has it changed and developed over the years? What kind of a relationship do you desire to have with God?
There are times in our lives when we turn to God and say: Show me your glory! Teach me a little more. Let me know you a little better. That is the kind of prayer that God longs for. That is the kind of prayer that God will respond to. God is careful not to give us too much too soon, because we would be blinded by his overpowering light. But it starts with the longing, the deep desire, the crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.