Windows of Salvation – The Burning Bush
Books and movies have a way of shaping our imaginations, and I have to admit that some of the way I imagine the Book of Exodus is from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic, The Ten Commandments. As I was studying today’s stained-glass window portraying the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in The Ten Commandments where God reveals himself to Charlton HestonMoses. An interesting side note – the scene was filmed on Mount Sinai itself, and the crew actually stayed at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of the mountain, built on the traditional site of the Burning Bush!
The revelation at the burning bush is a monumental moment in the history of Israel, where God not only speaks to Moses to guide him in setting the Israelites free, but even reveals his name – “I AM WHO AM.” This divine name of God is just as mysterious as he is, revealing and yet unrevealed. The Catechism points out that “By revealing his name God at the same time reveals his faithfulness which is from everlasting to everlasting, valid for the past (‘I am the God of your father’), as for the future (‘I will be with you’). God, who reveals his name as ‘I AM’, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.”
Acknowledging this sacred name and using it with respect (if at all), we can also see the powerful details of Jesus’ own revelation of himself. Jesus reveals his divine identity in a number of “I am” statements: “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Vine,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In the Gospel of John, this is made even clearer in the text itself as Jesus is being questioned by the high priest, where the “I AM” is capitalized, clearly referencing the Divine Name. The revelation to Moses that began with the burning bush is complete in Jesus Christ.
But what about the bush itself? I always thought that the burning bush, alight with fire but not consumed, was just a tool to get Moses’ attention like “See how crazy this is? Pay attention!” And yet, it wouldn’t be a stretch for us to consider that maybe the Lord revealed himself in this way to point to a greater reality.
One interpretation of the burning bush goes back to at least the time of St. Gregory of Nyssa in the 4thcentury, as a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, Eastern Christian images of Mary sometimes portray her in the midst of a burning bush. Just as the burning bush manifested the presence and revelation of God in a visible way, so too does Mary! And while fire is often seen in the Scriptures as the power of God consuming everything around it, the burning bush, burning with the consuming fire but never itself consumed, is seen as a reference to the virginity of Mary, who gave birth while still preserving the gift of her virginity. Even the words to Moses “where you are standing is holy ground,” might be seen as a reference to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, where her womb is the holy ground on which the Lord reveals himself.
God has indeed shown himself to us! And although we typically don’t find him as a burning bush (thank goodness), he continues to make himself known in works of charity, in forgiveness and mercy, and most of all, in the gift of the Eucharist. Let us be thankful that the same God who revealed himself to Moses and Mary has revealed himself to us!
God, infinite Creator of the world, when you spoke to Moses in the burning bush, you allowed all people to know you as the one “who is,” the one true God. We ask you to help us know you as you know us.