Sunrise from Mount Sinai
Do you remember that five years ago Richard Crocker preached a series of sermons for us on the Ten Commandments? He covered all ten, and I was impressed enough to save copies of those sermons:
* No Other Gods * Religion and Violence
* Graven Images * Religion and Sexuality
* Honoring God’s name * Religion and Property
* Keeping the Sabbath * Religion and Justice
* Honoring Parents * Religion and the Life of Desire
As a boy I remember my Father telling us about Moses. About how Pharaoh’s daughter found him in the bulrushes. About how he led the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt. Most memorable for us was about how he parted the Red Sea (Exodus, Chapter 14). Then Dad told us about how the Israelites were in “The Wilderness” for years and years. The Sinai was and is mostly a desert with a few oases here and there. He told us about how Moses went up on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from Jehovah. Finally he told how the Israelites arrived in “The Land of Milk and Honey”.
It is one thing to hear those biblical stories. But it can be even more inspirational to visit some of the sites in the Holy Lands. Joan and I had a chance to visit one of those places eight years ago. We were in Egypt for the holidays in December 2002. Our older daughter and her husband and three children lived in a suburb of Cairo. We celebrated Christmas together, and then in the next week all seven of us went over to Jordan to see the amazing ancient city of Petra. On the way back we drove across the Sinai Peninsula and stopped at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, which is situated at the base of Mount Sinai. This is a Greek Orthodox monastery built in the 500’s AD. It is still active today with an impressive church and library and serves as a center for biblical scholars.
We had heard that it was a tradition for visitors who came there to climb the mountain in the early morning to witness the sunrise from the summit. The local name for Mount Sinai is Gemel Musa, which is Arabic for Moses’ Mountain. We arose at 3 AM, put on all the warm clothes we had, and started up the sandy rocky switch-back trail that leads to the summit. We were surprised that there were about 200 other travelers with us on the trail that morning. Many were Christian “pilgrims” from all over the world. But there were also Muslims. This mountain is mentioned a number of time in the Koran, so it is sacred to them too. One could hire a camel to ride up the mountain, and people many did. We had little flashlights, but we quickly found out that camels seem to have the right-of-way in the dark, and because they are bigger, we didn’t argue with them. So we would stand off the trail and let them by. The climb took two hours and a half. Just short of the summit there is a small chapel. Outside of this some enterprising Bedouins were renting blankets. It was windy and bitter cold in December on top of this 7500-foot mountain.
Our reward was a glorious sunrise. This region of the southern Sinai is a desert with many mountain ranges about. The planet Venus and a crescent moon were visible off to the east. Then gradually rosy colors appeared in the east, and soon many colors were reflected off the arid peaks all around us. Then quite suddenly the sun’s rays shone across on us. My grandson and I speculated that it must have been a moment like this when Moses received the tablets from Jehovah.
We descended by another route. We came down the 3750 “steps of penitence” that some early devout Orthodox Christians had cut or fashioned all the way down to the monastery. We were impressed by all we had witnessed that morning. The sunrise was certainly one of the best we had ever seen. We were moved by the devotion of some of the “pilgrims”, as well as seeing the joy they felt for being in that sacred spot. And, I admit, we did feel that we had earned a good breakfast.