“This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” 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.” (Exodus 3:14b-15)
During Lent, the Old Testament readings focus on Israel’s salvation history as the presupposition of, preparation for, and in some respects a prefigurement of, the redemptive act of God in Christ. Each Sunday, we hear of a significant event from salvation history; this week, we hear of the first time that Moses found himself in the presence of God. On that occasion, Moses learned God’s personal name. It is a name that is at one and the same time simple but difficult to understand. Various writers have spilled gallons of ink to explain what the name “I AM” means. Taken in its most simple form, it speaks of God’s existence. At the same time, it speaks of God’s presence among the people Israel for God also identifies with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of Israel’s history.
This event took place on Mount Horeb. This name also is important. It means “desolate place.” A desolate place is chosen as the place in which to disclose God’s name. The place matches the situation in which the children of Israel find themselves. Moses is sent by “I AM” as a deliverer and as a personal messenger. Moses is given the task of bringing God’s chosen people the answer to their prayers. He is to deliver them from bondage.
No one would gainsay that we are far removed from this event historically speaking. It happened millennia ago. Remembering, however, that this reading is meant as a prefigurement of the redemptive work of Jesus, we recall on this particular Sunday that Jesus also came among us to speak God’s word and to deliver us from bondage or slavery to sin, to deliver us from the desolation of this world and prepare us for the next.
We keep the six weeks of Lent every calendar year. During this time, we prepare ourselves to renew our commitment to our Baptismal promises. We strip our places of worship down to the bare essentials. We remove all the flowers and decorations and create, if you will, a “desolate place” much like the desert in which Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro. Perhaps God chose a desolate place to disclose the mysterious name of God so that there would be nothing to distract Moses from the message contained in that name. God is. God exists. We are God’s people. We are God’s flock. God has sent Jesus to us to lead us out of the desolation of slavery to sin and into the garden of God’s redemptive love for us.
As we listen to this story, let us place ourselves in the scene with Moses and hear it as if for the first time. God has heard our cry and answers us by saying, “I AM,” and you are mine.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator