The Burning Bush
THE BURNING BUSH
The story of the burning bush is one of the most important narratives in the Hebrew Scriptures, because it is bound up with the Jewish experience of God. Moses, having fled from Egypt, is tending the flock of his father near Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai. Moses sees the strange phenomenon of a bush which is on fire, and yet the bush is not consumed by the flames. Even more fascinating is the experience of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush, calling him by name: “Moses, Moses”. Moses draws near and Yahweh replies: “Come no nearer … take off your shoes … the ground on which you stand is sacred” (Exodus 3:5 ). This narrative of the burning bush is foundational to Jewish origins and identity. We in the West will ask: “What happened?” In the East, the question is asked: “What did it mean?” If you take the narrative literally, then you may miss the point underlying the meaning and significance of the story of the burning bush. The burning bush is a part of God’s Creation, and Creation is the basic symbol of God’s presence to humanity, that is Creation is the sacrament of God to the world. If you cannot see God in Creation, that is if you cannot discern the footprints of God in the rhythm of nature and the cycle of life, you may not be able to see God in the history of Israel, in the history of Jesus, and in the history of the Christian church.
Poets down through the centuries have been fascinated by the Jewish story of the burning bush. For example, Elizabeth Browning writes:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
In a somewhat similar manner, Gerald Manley Hopkins points out:
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”
Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet, worrying about his faith, points out:
“The rain is falling on the burning bush
Where God appeared”
The story of the burning bush and its artistic representation in the Church of the Ascension raises the following questions:
- Is the bush still burning for me?
- Am I drawn, like Moses, to the burning bush?
- Am I fascinated by the wonders of God’s Creation?
- Can I see the presence of God in the cycle of life and the rhythm of nature?
- Can I connect the presence of God in the burning bush with the historical presence of God in Jesus Christ and the ongoing presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist?