But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly…to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
We woke at 2am, bundled into the minibus and drove through a few miles of hilly desert road to the drop-off. Even at this ungodly hour it was already packed with people. We grabbed our rucksacks and trudged off into the gloom. Our noses rather than our eyes told us we were nearing camels, then we could hear the Bedouin trader offering us a ride up the mountain.
Alongside him was a brightly coloured shack lit by a string of incandescent bulbs selling cans of coke and mars bars (no Kendal mint cake!). After climbing slowly for an hour or two we reached the final 750 steps of repentance. Here the path was packed with people, and we seemed to pause on each step to allow the older people in front to catch their breath. Finally we reached the summit…and waited.
A group of Koreans started singing ‘How great thou art’ (must they?) and still we waited. Impromptu prayers were offered in various languages (though the Americans were the loudest) and still we waited. It all felt rather touristy and contrived, wouldn’t the view be just as good over there, without this crowd?
Finally the strip of hazy blue to the East burst into light as the sun appeared over the distant horizon. It was breathtaking. It was Mount Sinai. We had come to a place so holy that the writer to the Hebrews described it as ‘so terrifying that Moses said “I am trembling with fear”.’
And yet he says that this profound experience is to be regarded as a pale imitation of the heavenly Zion that we can approach anytime, anywhere, in worship. And there will be crowds – even if we worship alone, we can join the heavenly host worshipping the God who transforms human relationships from enemies and strangers to brothers and sisters.
I love the understatement of the final line that Jesus’s self-given blood offering ‘speaks a better word’ than all the blood shed in human conflict between families, tribes, nations and religions. Jesus our brother invites us to regard one another as brother and sister; annoyingly cheerful Korean, brash American, the old and the slow.
Is there someone today that I need to extend brotherly, (or sisterly) love towards?