Meeting God on the Mountain

Back in Exodus, when the Israelites are brought to Mt. Sinai, they are warned not to ascend the mountain lest God break out against them. Meeting God is goal, but the people aren’t ready for it. Moses, Aaron, and the elders of the people got that privilege after being joined in the covenant.

Still, God did not desire this with just a few of the people, but with all. This becomes the next and greater goal of meeting God and again it takes place on the mountain. This time the mountain is Zion, as God takes up residence in the temple. Everything from the Exodus onward, truly everything since Genesis 3, has been the story of God bringing His people back, not just bringing them back to faith and trust but to Him personally.

That’s what makes the Incarnation so profound, for God now dwells on earth with His people in an approximation of what He had with His people back in Eden. With His Ascension, it might seem as though the connection is diminished, but that’s not the case. Our relationship to God is not diminished at all, only changed.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, He tell His disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We might be tempted to think He’s referring to God’s watchful providence and protection that He has always extended to His people. God’s Spirit pervades His creation and so nothing is truly out of His sight. Yet, this isn’t what Jesus refers to at all. He means precisely what He says. He is there in that generalized, nebulous sense, but He is also present in that special and unique way that He was present on Mt. Sinai or in the Holy of Holies in His temple on Mt. Zion.

You see, before Jesus ascended, He made a provision for His ongoing presence with His people. He declares within the context of a special meal of bread and wine that He is truly there in that special, unique, and gracious way He was with His people in the past. As God’s presence was always the goal of His people, it continues to be with His church now. Thus, the divine service is entirely designed to prepare us for and to help us understand the meaning of that presence.

Of course, the first part of the divine service focuses on God’s Word. God promises to be active through His Word and so this part of the service puts us into a position to receive that Word in the proper manner. God’s Word declares us righteous, but it also casts down the proud. Thus, those who would seek to be in God’s presence to hear that Word ought to do so with the necessary humility. Elements such as the Kyrie reinforce this and help us to prepare for our meeting with God. The Collect and Introit help us to be ready to receive the message God has in store in for us today. But, as important as all of that is, it pales in comparison to climbing the mountain to receive God’s Word as Moses once did when he was given the Commandments. This is where God’s grace and mercy meet us firsthand. This is where we are claimed as His people.

Yet, for all of the wonder we have at receiving His Word, it pales in comparison to actually being in His presence. As we stand on the mountain to receive His Word, we look ahead to the greater and more prominent mountain, just as Sinai looks forward to Zion. This is where my previous discussions on offerings comes into play. Offering becomes the lead in and preparation for meeting God in the flesh. I’ve spoken also about the Lord’s Prayer and how it requests precisely what God gives us in Communion and the Nunc Dimittis is a declaration of what we have seen and heard. However, it is Communion that is meeting with God. Communion is where we ascend the mountain to see God face to face. This is the mountain where God resides and is as important to us today as the high priest’s journey into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. It was that day that defined the relationship between God and His people and so the same is true for us now.

This is why the entire goal of the divine service is to make us ready for this meeting, so that we are also ready to receive everything God wishes to give us in and through this meeting.

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