Pentecost 2: “Going Up”
June 14th, 2020 – Exodus 19:2-3
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, may you receive from God the good you have not deserved, not get the bad you have, all because you now have peace with God through the blood of our risen and ascended Lord, Jesus Christ.
Our place of worship here at Our Saviour is on a hill. After all, this building used to be a school called Hillcrest Public School. This is a prime location because we can look to the East and see down the hill to all the houses in the neighbourhood below. More importantly, we used to be able to have quite the epic tobogganing hill because we are at such a height.
Being on top of a hill always seems to be a good thing. The kids’ game “King of the Hill” has kids fighting over who can be, and stay, on the top of a hill. People spent a lot of time and money just to climb, or hike, up mountains and say they made it to the top. From a military perspective, having a base at the top of a hill used to be a big advantage for the sight and ability to defend from the higher ground. When things have gone really well and you gain a new perspective on life we call them “mountain top” experiences. In business, a person strives to “climb the ranks” to end up “on top.”
We have an inherent desire to be at a high place; especially the highest place of all where God resides. Our ancestors tried to build their way up to God, and be like Him, when they built the tower of Babel.
The Hebrew concept of heaven was that it was “up.” The word for “heaven” in Hebrew is the same word that is used for “sky.” The concept of Hell, on the other hand, is down below, often represented by the low-down deep places of the oceans. Earth is somewhere in the middle between the two. In Scripture, we always see people trying to go upwards toward God. They go up towards Jerusalem, they go up to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and they go up into the Temple and the various levels up to God’s presence that are in there.
Our text for this morning from Exodus is no exception. The people of God had been on their exodus from Egypt for three months. At this point they find themselves gathering at the base of a mountain. Here, Moses goes up the mountain to God and God speaks to him from the mountain. Right after what we have recorded in our reading for today, God says to Moses that He will come down in a dense cloud to speak. A whole list of rules follows on how the Israelites must protect themselves for this encounter. God is coming down in a cloud to shroud His perfect Holiness from the people. When imperfect people fully encounter a perfect God it is like a spot of dirt meeting a whole bottle of dish soap. That spot does not stand a chance.
Here, we see Moses not going up to God and fully encountering Him, but God needed to find a way to protect His unholy people so that He can come down from on high and be with His people.
This whole idea of God being on high and us being down low was a large part of the Israelite’s worship of God. It is a part of our worship today, too. Have you taken note of our church’s architecture up front? We have levels – levels that get higher and lead up – they lead to the top of the altar. What do we find at the top of the altar? We have Jesus’ body and blood – we have God Himself who comes down to us as He promises for this Sacrament. When we approach the spot where God comes to us, we bow before His presence. We enter holy ground. Not because we say it is holy, but because God’s presence there week after week makes it holy.
All the regulations that come in Exodus 19 after the reading are about preparing yourself for God to come to you. These regulations make sure that the people are clean, have mentally prepared, abstained from sex, have set themselves especially aside for God’s arrival.
The people were doing all of these things to worship God but also to protect themselves.
None of us know about doing extra special things to clean ourselves or keep ourselves clean in order to stay safe. This is a foreign concept to many of us in these times. Our presence scattered about the church, and the hand sanitizer everywhere shows this.
Even when we are not in times of COVD, like the Israelites, we still know about cleaning ourselves in church before God comes to us. At the start of every service, we come before God and confess our sins to Him. We confess that we are not worthy to be in His presence. We confess that we have been hurting the people around us He made and loves. We confess that we have neglected Him. We confess that we are not worthy for Him to come down to us in His body and blood.
What happens next? As God spoke to the people through Moses, God speaks through me as His called and set aside servant. God speaks through me to tell you that He cleans you. Right here, right now. He prepares you to be in His presence and not to be struck dead by His perfection.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Christ’s ascension into heaven. We would like to be able to follow Him up into heaven. We would like to do so much good in this life that God will take us early or that we can build ourselves a stairway to heaven. That we can call the shots of this life and make everything run exactly the way we want.
We cannot. We cannot climb up the mountain to God.
Many thanks to God, instead, He comes down to us.
This morning, on these three levels higher and atop the altar. God will come down to us. God will come down to you. You will remain seated in your seats as He is brought right to you. As our Romans text “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, Christ forgave our sins in the absolution and He forgives our sin in His Holiness coming into our bodies.”
I am going to ask you to wait before eating the bread and drinking the wine. As communion is distributed out, wait until all our members have the body and blood of Christ. Wait until I direct you to eat and to drink. In this way, even though we are spread apart and separated, we will be united in the eating and drinking together.
This meal is special. We will be united in our common confession of our faith in this meal and we will be united with all Christians partaking of this meal across the world. In this meal, Christ joins us together with even those who have died in the faith and now eat this meal with us in heaven. All of this is brought down to us this morning.
As God came down to us from Heaven in Jesus who died and lives for us, He comes down to us today.
As we gather like Israel at the foot of the mountain, 3 months after our own Exodus not being able to gather in the church, Christ descends to us today to fill our hungering hearts with Himself.
For those who have gone without this supper for so long, today we break that fast.
Christ came into the world to give His body into death so He can bring us up to Himself in Heaven. In this meal, He comes forgiving us so we can live in His presence forever.
We look forward to that time when we will see the fulfillment of the Revelation God gave to John of the promised future. John prophesies: “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! The dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:1-3).
Thanks be to God, that through Christ, we are already citizens of this new creation Christ will bring.