My mom has taught me a lot of things – most of them good, some of them probably not as good, and many of them just plain strange. For instance, any time our family stayed overnight in a hotel, my mom refused to be barefoot. While we were bouncing between beds and off the walls, she was usually curled up on a chair, feet insulated with thick fuzzy socks and tucked up safely from the floor. I can’t stay in a hotel now without thinking about this habit of hers!
Amy Storms also taught me to be just a little bit Jewish. We’ve celebrated Passover for probably most of the years I’ve been alive, and a mezuzah has hung by our door for the majority of those. I’ve dragged branches (lemon tree, not palm) inside our house for a makeshift Festival of Booths, and I’ve sung “Dayenu” more than enough times. Rather than distracting from our faith in Jesus, these things (with some explanation from Mom) served to enrich my understanding of Scripture and the roots of Christianity.
At my school’s convocation ceremony this semester, one professor gave a message about Moses and the burning bush. He encouraged us to be on the lookout for ways God is inviting us to turn aside from whatever is holding our attention in order to hear from Him. Moses had been at work tending his flock, but had gone over to look before the Lord spoke to him. God called his name from the fire, and Moses said “Here I am.” God responded “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
I always wondered why Moses had to take his shoes off. For a long time, I assumed it was so that he could absorb the holiness through his skin (like whatever hotel disease my mom was afraid of catching). God’s power could keep a bush alive despite being on fire, sure, but His holiness was stumped by the strip of leather under Moses’ toes. Looking at the passage again, though, I wonder if Exodus 12:11 offers some explanation by the contrast in instruction. Before the great escape from Egypt, God tells His people to eat the Passover hastily, with “your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.” They need to be ready to go! At the burning bush, on the other hand, God asks Moses to focus on Him instead of whatever is coming next. He takes initiative in the encounter, but we get to choose how to respond. On holy ground, we must be present to God.
When you are present to the omnipotent Creator of the universe, it’s understandable to be a little nervous. In Exodus 3, Moses hid his face in terror once he realized who was speaking to him. In chapters 33-34, he asks for a reminder of God’s presence, a glimpse of His glory. (I don’t know about you, but I often find myself wishing for these things, too.) God combines His great and unmatched wisdom with His generous love and finds a compromise: He covers Moses’ face until His glory has passed, allowing Moses a small glimpse that he can handle without being destroyed. When he returns to the people, his face shines radiantly from his time with God.
Isaiah experiences a similar holy ground encounter. In a vision of the throne room, surrounded by fire and by the train of the Lord’s robe, hearing the continual praise of Yahweh in all His infinite glory, Isaiah is overwhelmed. “Woe to me! I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” He hasn’t even seen the King’s face – he’s just at the very base of the throne, and still he knows he isn’t worthy to be there. Then one of the seraphim – think “fiery serpent with six wings and probably at least one arm to hold the tongs” – flies over to the trembling man, carrying a coal from the altar. With it, he touches Isaiah’s mouth (ouch) and reassures him “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Because of this atonement, Isaiah can experience fuller presence of the Lord. Only after the coal can he say “Here I am. Send me!” To remain on holy ground, we must be made pure.
Isaiah was not the only one to have a vision of God; John, in the book of Revelation, describes his own. In solitude on an island, he heard the Lord speak and turned to pay attention. His words depict the same glory that Isaiah’s do, but with much more detail. He sees the Lord’s face, “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” A few chapters later, he sees the throne room as well, complete with confusing creatures still singing of Yahweh’s holiness. How was John different from Isaiah, that he could see so much more? Well, this was not John’s first holy ground encounter!
A few hundred years after Isaiah’s vision (and several decades before John’s), in the greatest movement of initiative in history, a baby was born, and light came into the world. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Through Moses, humanity received the Law; through Jesus, who is “the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of his being,” we know the Father. The empathy of the Incarnation allows us to have a relationship with Him!
On earth, Jesus set the example for presence. He said “Here I am” to the Father, letting God’s will guide his own. His presence to humanity was the pivotal holy ground encounter. As God, he was already pure; as man, he was put through death. We were the ones that needed touched by a coal. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
In the presence and purity of holy ground, we receive a message to share. Moses was sent to Pharaoh to bring God’s people out of Egypt. Later, he was given the message of God’s covenant with Israel. Isaiah was sent to God’s people with a message concerning their prideful rebellion, describing the consequences of their actions, as well as the hope for the future. In Revelation, John was sent to seven churches with messages regarding their actions.
Today, we have a corporate commission to be witnesses to Christ and his love for the world. As parts of this body, there are many roles to fill, only to be received by resting in solitude. Moses, Isaiah, John, and Jesus were all individuals “willing one thing” (though only the last one willed it perfectly), and they received specific words from God to be communicated. Today, we are also entrusted with a word from God and empowered by the Spirit to speak it directly!
John 15 records Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to abide with him. It would be enough to just rest in remaining with him! But in remaining, we are sent.
“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete! My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” – John 15:10-12
Even as we remain with Christ, we witness to him. Our abiding relationship with him leads to abiding relationships with others, imperfect scale-models though they may be. As we walk in step with the Spirit, our footprints may just become holy ground on which others see the Lord.
Take off your shoes.
I didn't cite my sources very well in this one. Here are the passages I used while writing: Exodus 3; 33:8-34:35; Isaiah 6; John 1:14, 17-18; 15; Hebrews 1:1-3; 10; Revelation 1:9-19; 4:1-11 Other sources include Amy Storms (mom) and Jon Kehrer (Old Testament professor).