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Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
February 28, 2016
Sr. Rosemary DeGracia
“Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
When we were children, we celebrated the coming of warmer weather by shedding our shoes and socks and romping with abandon in our bare feet—freedom from that which had been confining our feet. We also realized quite quickly that our feet had softened over the winter, and we no longer had the tougher skin to protect us from the assault of hot sidewalks and sharp gravel or stickers.
In the time of Moses, most travel was on foot, and sandals were critical for protection against an array of hazards. To remove one’s sandals was both a symbol of vulnerability and of reverence.
Moses was familiar with Egyptian religious customs dictating that priests remove shoes before entering temples. He also knew that it signified a sense of unworthiness before the holy. Customs of removing shoes when at a threshold continue today in many cultures and religious traditions. Native peoples enter the sweat lodge on their knees and without shoes…they honor the interrelatedness of all of us.
What do we do when we sense the presence of God? Each of us has a history of encountering God. Each of us, like Moses, has speechless moments that pull us out of the ordinary and call us into awe—we hide our faces because it is too wonderful, too fearful, too powerful to describe—we are on holy ground before our loving God. Where is our Holy Ground?
Our personal holy ground may be inside or outside, simple or spectacular. It is made holy by association—our meetings with God in the intensity of God’s presence. The Exodus reading does not tell us that Moses was seeking God, going off to pray on the mountain as Jesus often did. He was tending sheep. Moses was lured into encounter by the unquenchable fire of the burning bush.
When God informs Moses of his intent to rescue his people from the grasp of Egypt, Moses interprets it as his personal mandate to undertake the mission—to deliver God’s message of deliverance. Moses then does the unthinkable, he asks for God’s name. God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”
If I were Moses, I would be more than a little disturbed by the mystery of that answer. Who but a theologian could understand the nature of the pre-existing, eternal, immutable God who transcends our comprehension? Maybe the ancients found it easier than us, but God somehow felt it necessary to explain and include the well-known ancestors of the Israelites:
God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”
In many cultures, as in our own Catholic culture, the giving of and the knowing of one’s name signifies power. Traditions differ as to when the name is given, what rituals occur, and whether the naming is private or public. In older cultures it is not unusual for one’s name to change over the course of a lifetime or to include revered ancestors, places, or the deeds and circumstances of one’s life.
We see scriptural references to encounters with God that culminate in the changing of one’s name: Abram becomes Abraham, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. We celebrate sacraments with naming or a change of name. When I ministered in our parish RCIA program, we incorporated the chosen names of the elect into the litany of saints during the Easter Vigil. As each person recognized their name in the litany, the response was extraordinary, powerful, bringing new meaning to the words—I have called you by name.
We are called by name, uniquely loved by our God. As we continue this Lenten journey, let us pray for the Elect and Candidates who will celebrate the sacraments this Easter and pray that we may approach our God with the reverence and awe of Moses as we stand in the shadow of the burning bush of our lives.