Photo courtesy of our ACT Alliance partner, Act for Peace
Read Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.
The third summit reached as part of the 70 Munros challenge was Ben Wyvis.
The very first person to walk all of Scotland’s Munros - that is, the mountains of over 3,000ft (914.4m) - was a minister. The Reverend Archibald Eneas Robertson completed the 282 peaks by 1901.
There is a possibility, though, that he didn't reach the summit of Ben Wyvis. In his journal, he states that he turned back near the top because of heavy rain, and there is no account of a return expedition.
So those who stood on the crest of Ben Wyvis on Friday 13 March may well have reached a point that he did not.
'From Mount Hor...'
Not reaching the intended destination features as part of our Old Testament reading, in Numbers 21:4-9.
The beginning of the passage might ordinarily be passed over as mere geographical scene-setting - but for this year of mountaintop experiences, the words 'from Mount Hor' may draw us into this old and odd story.
'From Mount Hor' means from the place where, in the sight of everyone, Moses ascended with his older brother Aaron and his nephew Eleazar.
Only Moses and Eleazar returned. Moses had buried his older brother there.
The person whom the people had, on occasion, turned to for direction was gone. Aaron had been 'gathered to his people' on Mount Hor.
He was not to venture on with the multitude. He had completed his journey and was not to make it to the Promised Land.
Weariness and insecurity
The people entered into grief and, although the 30 days of mourning had passed as they left the shadow of Mount Hor, they left a significant one of their number behind.
The one who, as Moses' spokesperson, had brokered their very freedom from Egypt.
Perhaps it was a combination of grief and what they saw as a weakened leadership that led them, as so many times before, to start grumbling and complaining: 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?'
As one Old Testament commentator has said, 'it is harder to leave the old ways than it is to leave the old land.' (1)
In their nostalgia for the old land, the people are given a sharp and painful reminder of the reality of the Egypt they have left behind.
We are delivered
But even if Aaron has died, even if their way has been blocked, even if they are terrified by the reports brought back by the spies of Canaan, even if their complaining is really about the lack of food and water - even if for them then, as for us now, things look and feel anything but, so we are in fact delivered. We are on our way to what has been promised.
During this Lent we have marked the fourth anniversary of the conflict in Syria, a conflict that has seen 200,000 people lose their lives.
During this Lent we have celebrated and given thanks for mothers, at the same time as facing up to the reality that approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. (2)
Sometimes it can be hard to believe those words of Desmond Tutu, that 'goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness – victory is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord'.
‘By lifting up our eyes and facing the suffering of the cross we find the antidote to our own and the world's brokenness.'
Despite all the questions and confusion this Old Testament story presents, when Jesus tells it he arrives at the healing love of God, in that oh so familiar verse of John 3:16.
He presents us with the central claim and mystery of our Christian faith: that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up. On the cross, as in the wilderness, we are presented with an image of our assured deliverance.
By lifting up our eyes and facing the suffering of the cross we find the antidote to our own and the world's brokenness. By lifting up our eyes and facing the suffering of the cross we find an antidote even to death.
God's love for the world has inspired Christian Aid to keep striving for a world free from the scandal of poverty these past 70 years. It's a love that motivates us still.
'For the love of' has become the campaign slogan of many organisations as they galvanise around the challenges of a changing climate, calling us all to focus on what is beautiful and what we love in order to motivate us to do what we can to prevent environmental catastrophe.
Changing climate is hitting the world's poorest hardest, illustrated in recent weeks by the devastating effects of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.
God's love for the world
It is God's love for the world that keeps us journeying towards the promised land of a world free from extreme inequality and extreme poverty.
A world free from the deep wounds of conflict. A world where mothers do not live in fear of death during childbirth.
Despite how things sometimes look and feel, despite at times wanting to give up the struggle for justice or retreat from the long walk to freedom, we are invited through these stories to lift our eyes, not just to the hills but to the cross.
Even if it means facing the deepest suffering of humanity, we might also see there the deep love that God has for the world. And in that may we find the healing of our hope and the inspiration that we need to keep on keeping on.
God who so loved the world,
Help us to lift our gaze
to see the suffering of humanity
in Syria, in maternity wards, in the Pacific Islands.
Help us to lift our gaze
to see the healing made possible through your love,
the antidote to death and suffering for all humanity.
Help us to lift our gaze
even if we are weary,
even if we are sad and disheartened,
to see, to give thanks and to keep journeying on
towards the promised land of another possible world.
In the name of your Son who was given,
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(1) JA Thompson cited by Doug Gay, ‘Honey from the Lion’ London, SCM Press, 2013, p54.
(2) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/, accessed 27 March 2015.