The veil is removed

Scriptures: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s the last day of the season of Epiphany, and is the most powerful revelation of Christ as Messiah, King, and God that we have before the resurrection itself. It crowns the moment before Lent, helping us to understand in some ways the magnitude of what Christ did for us by becoming incarnate, by suffering and dying as a sacrifice for our sin, and then defeating death itself as he was raised from the dead, back to that glory.

As we look at the story of the transfiguration and the story of Moses on the mount, let us remember what it reveals about God and His love. Have you ever noticed how we talk about people from time to time as glowing? Young couples when they’re first in love, and they just glow with that love and that passion. Or how about a pregnant woman? “Oh, she’s got a glow about her.” Maybe an excited kid – they’re glowing with excitement as they’re waiting for Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but we used to have our Christmas day, we had certain rules. We could only go so far then, until all the adults were awake and had their coffee and everything, we weren’t allowed to go in to get to the tree and the presents. And so we would all be just sitting there – we had a split level house – along the steps. We always had our two families get together, so there was always six or eight kids, and we’d always be lined up on the steps. I’m surprised the parents didn’t trip and fall on their way down. We’d be waiting for them, and my Dad in particular would drag on purpose and take his time. And we’re just bouncing up and down, on the steps, waiting with excitement, and somebody would say we’re glowing with excitement.

I want you to ask yourself, do you ever wonder what would happen if someone really glowed? We’d be covering our eyes. We’re about to see a clip from the show Friends, where Ross wanted to impress his new girlfriend with his radiant smile. This is a montage through the entire episode. He applied some tooth whitener but left it on waaaay longer than he was supposed to. So check it out as we see how his friends – and most importantly his date – react to his glowing smile.

[See the clip on YouTube]

I suspect that many of us would have reacted much the same way as Ross’ friends, if we saw someone whose face glowed. Anything from cries of “Demon!” to “What’s the matter with you?”

Moses was on the mountain for his second time in our story today. He broke the tablets in anger the first time, when he came and saw the golden calf, and then he went back up there. He asked while he was up there to see God’s face, and he was told, “No,” ”, it would kill him, but instead he got to see God’s backside as he walked by. He comes down the mountain with new tablets, and word from God that God wants to dwell among His people.

What he doesn’t realize is that his face was glowing from being in the presence of God. The language used speaks of a “reflected” glow; it’s similar to the language used to describe the light of the moon – as opposed to the sun. And, as we saw in our clip, the people freaked out, much as they did, and said “No way, Jose!” when they were confronted with the idea of God being among them, if this is what happens. They said, “You go up and talk to God, and tell us what he wants. We’ll listen to you.”

He made people so nervous that he began covering his face whenever he came out from going into the Tabernacle to speak with God. The passage in Corinthians alludes to Moses covering his face so that people wouldn’t see the glow fade; but there is no evidence of that in the Scripture itself, and what is there seems to indicate he wore the veil to COVER the glow. Regardless, the people, as I said, reacted much the same way as Ross’ friends.

In Luke, we see the transfiguration of Jesus framed by discussions of his need to take up the cross, and sacrifice himself. The glory of the Lord is, in part, in that sacrifice – even as John the Evangelist indicated continuously through his Gospel. Now Jesus went up there and he began praying, and as always the disciples had problems when they went to pray – I know none of you have ever had that, when you start praying and you fall asleep, or get drowsy – but Jesus was praying and Luke says that his countenance changed.

His face changed, and his clothes began to as white as if lightning was there. One of the other Gospels, Mark, say that he began to glow from within. The word is used, lampe, like a lamp. Unlike Moses who reflected the glow, Jesus produced the glow! And he got his disciples’ attention. I suppose that would, if all of a sudden a spotlight was shining in your eyes, or near them. And so they get up Moses and Elijah there with Jesus.

They look at what they see, and even that was not the full glory of God, mind you. The veil was removed from the incarnate Christ, ever so briefly, and the disciples – particularly Peter – when they see this decided they wanted to stay in that place with him. Forget the rest of the world. Forget the rest of the disciples, even. We heard how Peter opened his mouth and stuck his foot in it, as usual, as he said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here” – that is, the three of them to witness this stuff. He said, “Let’s build a booth” – a place where we can basically offer sacrifices to you, and to Moses and to Elijah. Basically they wanted to set up a sort of a tabernacle there and never leave.

The Father then decides to take a hand, and the glory of God – that cloud. The word for the cloud there is “Shekinah” and it speaks of the glory of God, the same cloud of glory that shone around Mount Sinai when Moses went up it. It flashes into being around these upstarts. And they got to see, if you will, the backside of God. And like most normal people, they fell over unconscious. They were so overwhelmed.

And the voice came from the cloud, and it said, “This is my beloved Son whom I have chosen. Listen to him!”; after which Jesus once again, on the way down, explained how he must suffer and die for us on the cross. I think that’s an important point for us to understand. God’s making this show, if you will, like a slideshow, to make it clear to the disciples that they need to listen to what Christ has to say. You see, it was something they had problems grasping, something they didn’t want to hear, that the Savior needed to die, instead of simply taking over the world.

But that’s the way it was. That glory of God was fully revealed in the love of God, shown to us on the cross as Jesus died for our sins. It was at the cross that the veil in the Temple was torn in two, giving us open access to the Father. It was at the cross that the depths of God’s love was proved for each one of us as he paid for our sins. It was at the cross that the Son of God was revealed by the Holy Spirit, even to the Gentile Roman soldier there at his side as he died.

We’re going to celebrate communion today, and in communion, we once again get a glimpse of that glory, that foretaste of what is to come. As the hymn “Blessed Assurance” says, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in his blood.”

Christ is present here today in this sacrament. He is always with us, and always watching; but in this sacrament we can get a special sense of his glorified presence among us. As you partake of the bread and cup today, may you get a foretaste, see the glimpse of the glory of God, and know with complete assurance the love that God has for you.

Then may you share that love and glory with others, as like Moses we reflect the light and love of God in our lives and in our faces through the Holy Spirit. Finally, let me challenge you, to never try to veil the light of God in our lives, and hide it –for there is no need any more for such things. Unveil your eyes and your heart, and see the love that God has for us; and then share that love with everyone around you, keeping it unveiled for them. For that is the Good News, and it should never, ever, be hidden.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

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