24 April 2012

Exodus 19:1-25

"When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up." (v. 20)

The exact physical location of Mount Sinai is not clear, but there is no doubt about its significance as a spiritual landmark. It is the meeting place between God and humanity, and in this chapter we read of the careful preparations that must be made before that meeting.

But first Moses sets God's proposal before the people. He reminds them of all that God has done for them so far, and offers them God's promise that if they keep God's covenant, they will be "a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (v. 6). There are similarities here to the suzerainty treaties made in those days, which set out the terms of a relationship between a conqueror and his subject people. It is an indication of the people's trust in God that "as one" (v. 7) they agree to the covenant without its terms having been clearly spelt out.

The concept of the covenant has an important place in Methodist devotion. In the Covenant Service at the start of each New Year, we are reminded of that gracious relationship between God and ourselves. Like the Israelites at Sinai, we too are encouraged to make an unconditional response to God, although of course our response is to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The covenant is not a relationship between equals, and this is made clear in Exodus 19. The majesty of God is emphasised in thunder and lightning, cloud and loud trumpet blasts, and God's holiness is recognised in the preparations that the people must make - washing their clothes and abstaining from sexual intercourse - a whole two days of preparation. Holiness was then seen in physical terms, and by virtue of God's presence, the mountain itself becomes a holy place which must not be approached too closely for fear of death. Only Moses and Aaron the high priest are permitted to enter the presence of God to receive God's message to the people.

To Ponder

Have you got a personal holy place or places? What makes them special for you?

The people prepared themselves scrupulously to meet with God. What preparations do you make before attending worship?

If you take part in it, to what extent do you find the Methodist Covenant Service helpful? Think about your feelings as you make the covenant promises.