Moses was in the wilderness watching over his father-in-law’s flock. That was nothing extraordinary. But as Moses was working on that ordinary task, something extraordinary took place. The messenger of the Lord revealed Himself in the flame of fire that burned from a bush–but the fire did not burn the bush or even singe it.
Moses was caught off guard. How could this bush burn without becoming cinder and ash? He turned to gaze at this astonishing sight. Then from the flames the Lord spoke: “Moses! Moses! Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:4-5). The ground was holy: God’s ground, His space. Deuteronomy tells us, “The LORD your God is an all-consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).
God revealing Himself to Moses gives us insight into the nature of His holiness. It is the nature of fire to either harm or help. Consider the sun. The sun can scorch the earth, causing plants to wither and die. Yet, the sun also radiates warmth and light, causing plants to grow and be fruitful. It all depends on the position that someone has toward the sun. So it is with God and His holiness.
If someone is positioned in unbelief and sin, then God’s holiness becomes an all-consuming fire that destroys. For someone cannot gaze on God’s full glory with sin still in him. But if one stands before God in faith, God’s holiness comes to him in the warmth of mercy, granting light and life.
When we gather to worship, our feet move on holy ground. Yet, this is not magic. It’s because the same God who revealed Himself to Moses also comes to us in His Word and Supper, where He chooses to make Himself present. And so during worship, the Divine Service, we are standing on holy ground.
Moses took off his shoes to stand in the presence of God. During worship, we do not take off our shoes, but God does call us to take off our sin, to lay it aside. Then after laying our sin aside, we come to the New Covenant itself, which Jesus Himself instituted for His people: His Supper. We come to receive what Jesus Himself says He gives us: His body and blood to make us His holy people (Matthew 26:26-28).
It is as the book of Hebrews declares:
You [we Christians worshiping on earth] have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to innumerable angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant [Hebrews 12:22-24].
Did you realize all that was happening during the worship service? Yes, you are not only in the presence of God, but also join with the angels, archangels, and all the saints of heaven. How large is your Church? It’s that large!
Many churches have a time of repentance before celebrating the resurrection joy of Easter. We call this season “Lent.” So, during this season of Lent, take time to remember that you are in God’s presence when you worship. Let that shape how you worship.
In heaven, the saints gathered around God’s throne (who are now sinless) fall in reverence before Him (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 11:1, 11:16, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10). How much more then should we revere God when we gather to worship, especially on this side of heaven, where sin still stains the fabric of our being?
Let then this season of Lent be a time for God to reset your priorities. Let this be a season of renewed focus, not only on turning away from your sin back toward God, but even how you worship Him. May you worship Him, recognizing that when you are in His presence, you are on holy ground. Amen.