When you want to stand a few books on a shelf, you use bookends to keep them from toppling over to either side. Today’s readings can be considered bookends for our life in Christ. We need both of them to keep us secure and safe.
The first bookend is the way God introduced himself to Moses, by telling him, “I Am”. Essentially, he said that he is life itself, embracing and surrounding all creation. As the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he is reminding Moses of all that he has done in gathering them together, giving them an identity as his people, and rescuing them from their enemies. This is a powerful, all-encompassing God who deserves to be worshipped and revered.
The second bookend is the Gospel reading. In it, Jesus, who is God made flesh, invites us to come to him so that he can comfort us and lift our burdens. But why would we go to him and not some other god? Well, because the first bookend tells us just how powerful he is. Jesus is the “I Am,” the Alpha and Omega, the One who holds all things together.
And here is the wonder of the Gospel message. God is complete in himself, and yet he longs for us to be with him. He is all powerful, yet he became a helpless baby in order to redeem us. He who put the stars in the heavens hears our prayers and comes running to help us.
In the end, we need both bookends. If we focus only on today’s Gospel, we may turn God into an overly indulgent parent who spoils his children. But if we focus only on the first reading, we’ll turn him into a remote Creator who holds our obedience only because we fear his power. But God wants us to follow him because he loves us, not because we fear him. He wants us to come to him for comfort so that once we are strengthened, we can go out into the world and tell everyone else how awesome and powerful he is. It is here, between the bookends, that we’ll find true rest for our souls.