The theme for this Sunday of the Season of Creation is wilderness. The readings feature the wilderness less as ‘inhospitable desert’ than ‘a place apart’: as a place where one encounters God.  

The reading from Exodus 3:1-15 describes Moses’ first encounter with God. Here is a summary.

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law…; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush … Moses said, ‘I must look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ ...

The Lord…called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘…Remove your sandals … for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face…

Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cry… and I have come to deliver them from the Egyptians, to bring them... to a good and broad land, flowing with milk and honey…So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

He said, ‘I will be with you…When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

But Moses said, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say?’ God said , ‘I am who I am.’ … say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ God also said, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and the of Jacob, has sent me to you”:

This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.

God announced himself to Moses as I am who I am…in the wilderness.


Centuries later, the psalmist reminded the Israelites, that

In the sight of their ancestors God worked marvels

    in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.

He divided the sea and let them pass through it,

… In the daytime he led them with a cloud,

    and all night long with a fiery light.

He split rocks open in the wilderness,

    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.

Yet they sinned still more against him,

They tested God in their heart  (Psalm 78: 9-20)

God used the forbidding impression of wilderness as a place for signs of his power: a fiery light in the night and water gushing forth from the rocks. He transformed it into a place of safety and abundance, a place to encounter him.


The gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) also features wilderness as both a place of testing but also of resilience and encounter with God. The gospel begins after Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,

    and “On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’

Jesus said, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

An enigmatic quality to wilderness shapes these readings. In Exodus 14:12, and a number of other places, the Israelites complained, “it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’’

Simultaneously, it is a boundary place, or “thin space” between the austere physicality of stones and shrubs and the transcendentally spiritual, where bushes burn but are not consumed by the flame, where water springs from a rock and Moses encounters Pure Being. It was into the wilderness that God led the Israelites to shape them as his people.

The wilderness was also a place for the human Jesus’ radical encounter with evil and where he was famished. It was where the Spirit led him to understand his relationship with the one who had called him Beloved Son and its meaning for his life. It was a ‘Petrie dish’ for intense exploration of God’s and one’s own self.


During this season of Creation Cares, these scripture passages invite us to consider the natural/ metaphorical/spiritual wildernesses where we lack the usual supports for our lives but where we might encounter God. Sometimes we inhabit these places by accident…getting lost or stranded and we might pray for help. Other times we can experience a wilderness-like isolation in a crowd and seek God’s validation that we are not anonymous, but known and loved. Alternatively, we can seek a quiet and simple time, such as in a retreat, sitting alone in church or at home, wrapped in silence and a sense that God is with us.


  • Where is the wilderness space where you could encounter God? Could it be in the anonymity of city streets? Can you find it at the beach? Could it be the Rouge National Urban Park? Or does it need to be more remote, like a trail in Algonquin Park or a canoe trip along the McKenzie River in the Northwest Territories? Could it be at a retreat centre, when you embrace silence and voluntarily fasting?
  • In English, God’s name, I Am who I am, is a form of the irregular verb “to be”. Depending on the situation it is conjugated as “am”, “are”, “is”, “was”, “were”, and in compound forms of being such as “are being”, “was being” and “will be”. In its many forms, God’s name (at least in English) thus becomes a metaphor for different forms of encounter with Pure Essence: Father, Son and Spirit.
  • Wilderness was not only a place where the Israelites and Jesus encountered God but they also met with temptation. Their lack of the usual supports opened them to the question of who they were, of how firm was their resolve, of how deeply they believed in the way they were on. The wilderness became a litmus test of their faith and self-understanding. A question for each of us is: how does wilderness test our faith, hope and love.