16On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20When 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. 21Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to the LORD to look; otherwise many of them will perish. 22Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves or the LORD will break out against them.” 23Moses said to the LORD, “The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.'” 24The LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the LORD; otherwise he will break out against them.” 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said something along the lines of, to know the name of Jesus Christ we first have to know that God’s name is unsayable. Maybe we know this intuitively. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” says Hebrews. God is powerful. God is fearful. God is beyond our reckoning or imagination. This is why the people of Israel didn’t dare speak the name of God. We don’t like to think of God as the one making us afraid (we have enough to be afraid of these days). But the irony in this picture of God is that, if God is always knowable and accessible, what use do we have for him? If God is so familiar to us, maybe we’d be like that old married couple who knows what each other are going to say before they say it. Moses reminds us that, despite our feelings of closeness, God is separate, holy, wild, and unpredictable, always outside of our grasp. Even the priests can’t get too close. While this may be off-putting, it is exactly this separateness that affirms God’s rule of creation. The world is never in our hands, and that’s good news—it’s in God’s.
Gracious God, let your love hold us, shelter us from trouble, and bring us to safety. Let your power cover the creation you made and love, that even in fear and trembling, we may worship you as Messiah and Lord, in Jesus Christ. Amen.