Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
[On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]
I recently officiated at a wedding where a bride wore a veil. When she walked down the aisle with her father and reached the front her mother lifted up the veil.
Veils go back thousands of years with the earliest reference found in an Assyrian law code. Back then veils were worn by higher class respectable women, and females slaves and prostitutes were forbidden to wear them.
There is certainly evidence that in certain places and cultures in history veils for women were worn as symbols of a husband’s authority over a woman, that she was his property and therefore he alone had a right to her face.
In Christian tradition the use of veils often was more about covering the hair, and some of them covered necks up to the chin. This is supposedly about modesty and respect. Nuns wore a kind of veil. In fact at one time when a woman became a nun it was referred to as “taking the veil.”
There is a reference in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, where Paul talks about covering one’s head, with men discouraged from wearing head coverings and women encouraged to wear head coverings. And so even fifty years ago in western culture it was pretty much a shame and a scandal for a woman to go to church without a hat, but the opposite was true for a man. It was a scandal for a man to cover his head in church.
There are some pretty interesting, for lack of a better word, arguments and controversies these days over the use of veils, mostly in reference to Muslim women and whether they can wear veils when they work for the government, or whether they have to show their face for driver’s licenses or in court or even in public.
Veils are mentioned in the bible in a number of places and not necessarily as clothing items.
Veils partially or fully… hid, obscured or separated one thing from another.
In the temple there was a veil that separated the Inner Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies.
So the purpose of the veil was to obscure, hide or separate.
And of course there is the famous or infamous wedding where Jacob thinks he is marrying Rachel, but when the veil is lifted up he finds out that he has married the older sister Leach.
And I talk about veils because in our Old Testament Lesson we have Moses who has gone up the mountain coming down the mountain and so bright was his face after seeing God that he had to wear a veil.
And then Paul references this event suggesting that when we turn to Christ and see his glory, a veil is lifted from our faces and we see more clearly, or ourselves being changed to be more like Christ.
And the third scripture while not mentioning a veil is about Jesus going up the mountain where Jesus is transfigured.
So the veil in this story is implied, in the sense that the three disciples witness a symbolic unveiling and the veil of Jesus’ humanity is drawn back for a few seconds and they see the full glory of Jesus and his divinity.
I know if you have ever had an unveiling, but I suspect that it is pretty common to human experience.
I remember Fiona’s mom, Helen telling me that she was 12 or 13 years old and she still believed in a real, in the flesh Santa Claus, because her parents used to get a friend to dress up as Santa Claus and wake her up in the middle of the night.
And all the children in her school teased her and tormented her about believing in a real Santa Claus.
The veil was lifted away from her in a not very nice way.
Or maybe you remember the first funeral you attended and the veil of innocence, or even immortality, was lifted from your eyes, and the cold hard reality of death was stared into for the first time.
Or maybe you had a theological unveiling and the veil was lifted from your eyes and you found Christ or Christ found you…
Or you had a profound change in your understanding of Christ.
I attended a conservative Baptist Church as a teenager and the theology of that church was that not only non-Christians were going to a literal hell, but United Church of Canada people, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other mainline church members, because they were not born-again Christians.
For me an unveiling happened in theological college and as a fairly new minister, as I began to see how loving, how inclusive, how forgiving, how wide was God’s mercy and how God loved everyone.
And I think that the Transfiguration story has unveilings for us today as we look a little more closely at this story, which is contained in the all of Synoptic gospels.
By the way, the Synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. Synoptic means that they look through the one eye.
The gospels are similar in style and at times, in parts, word for word the same. It is evident that Matthew and Luke had access to Mark and used it as the basis for their gospels… while adding some other common material and material of their own.
The gospel of John however, is completely different stylistically, and while a few stories from the Synoptics are told in John, it has an altogether different feel.
The first thing to notice in the Transfiguration story is who shows up at the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah. So there is the representative of the Law, and the representative of the Prophets. They are there with Jesus.
There is for Jesus continuity with the Law and the Prophets, but the voice says. “This is my son. Listen to him.”
And for me it means that Jesus is greater than the Law and the Prophets.
It may be a bit disconcerting to hear this when maybe you have heard that all Scripture is equally authoritative, but I think it is a mistake to elevate scripture to the same status as Jesus.
The beauty of scripture is that it invites us into a relationship with Jesus, so that we can listen to Jesus’ voice.
It is as Reformed Principle that scripture interprets scripture, and so we give precedence to the voice of Jesus.
We can find scriptures to justify anything, including violence, exclusion and genocide…
But what is Jesus saying to us….?
Then there is Peter who tries to build little tabernacles. Some says it is because it was so glorious that he wanted to stay up there and that might be part of it. But tabernacles contain altars. Sacrificial altars like the one Elijah killed 400 prophets on, or that Abraham was tempted to sacrifice his son on.
Jesus himself said that he desired mercy not sacrifice.
Maybe the veil is lifted so that humans don’t have to believe that God requires blood to make him feel good or to forgive.
Then there is fear. Maybe you have heard a sermon or two in your life about the angry God is just waiting to send unrepentant sinners to hell. Maybe you grew up and were afraid of God that God might do something terrible to you sometime. Punish you or send you to hell.
But how many times in scripture are there words to this effect.
Don’t be afraid. Or: Fear not.
Some say 365 times. You could find a different verse for every day of the year.
When Jesus is announced and when Jesus is born and when Jesus is with his disciples and when Jesus is taken up to heaven and just before Jesus dies and at his baptism and at his Transfiguration. Do not fear.
Don’t be afraid of God. God is not out to get you.
God loves you.
And then there are disciples sleeping. When you are sleeping you are not listening.
How many times I have gone to the movies and fallen asleep in the middle of a movie or watching tv at home and I fell asleep and missed it.
There are Christians who miss the boat so to speak because they sleeping. They don’t hear the voice of Christ because they are too busy, or think they know it all, or have their minds made up about theology.
They don’t have a veil lifted, because they don’t even know they have a veil.
And I have been there and done that and bought the t-shirt.
Been asleep and missed the voice of Jesus.
And then I don’t think you can understand the transfiguration unless you understand the context of this story.
Jesus just before the transfiguration says that he is going to suffer and die and be raised again.
It is an understanding that the disciples do not understand very well. Messiahs are not supposed to suffer and die.
And Jesus invites us to take up our crosses and lose our lives with him.
And after the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with the evil spirit, which is really part of the transfiguration story, Jesus speaks again about his death.
That he will be handed over to the power of humans. Humans will kill him.
And the scripture says that the disciples could not understand it.
And then there is a whole part of the transfiguration story we haven’t even talked about yet.
While Jesus and the three disciples are up the mountain and the transfiguration is happening at the same time in the valley there is a man who has come with his son, possessed by an evil spirit.
The evil spirit hurts him. You can tell people who have evil spirits.
They like to hurt people.
You can tell when you have an evil spirit. When you want to hurt someone.
And while Jesus and the three are up the mountain all night, the other disciples are trying to cast out an evil spirit and they are failing miserably.
There is a beloved son up the mountain and we are called to listen to him..
But there is also a beloved son in the valley below writhing in pain and agony
And that father too is calling out for someone to listen to his son and care and do something.
And these two sons are part of the same story. The transfiguration.
One son is in glory and one is in agony…
It isn’t fair, but that is the way it is in the world. One week you may be at church and full of joy and praise and basking in the glory of Jesus and worship and sitting only a few pews from you may be someone in agony..
…agony due to loss or heartbreak or poverty or sickness or conflict or loneliness or even overcome with an evil spirit…
IN the same service there is someone on the mountain and someone in the dark valley of the shadow of death.
So I am wondering if the unveiling of Christ, to look on his glory is not so much about earthly glory and feeling groovy…
As it is about our eyes opened to see what the real ministry of Christ is…
It is to take up a cross and suffer for other’s sake…
It is to have compassion on those who are sick or hurting..
It is to cast out evil from people and institutions that have evil spirits…
It is to show a new way of being in the world. Love for all instead of control and punishment and violence.
It is to see that even the ones with evil spirits are children of God and that we need to listen to them.
It is to realize that even when to care the least of the humans in the world that is Christ.
We cannot separate the son on the top of the mountain in brightness from the son at the bottom of the valley in darkness.
Listening to each is listening to Christ.
You know Paul writes about a veil lifted when one finally sees Christ,
Paul knows full well what he is talking about, because Paul was devoted to God and to faith and to scripture.
So much so that Paul hunted down those who twisted the faith and challenged scripture and proposed there was a man worth listening to, even greater than scripture.
And he Paul beat and tortured and imprisoned and consented to their executions, because we was right and his faith was right and the scriptures were right.
And Jesus stopped him on the Road to Damascus and Paul heard the voice of Jesus.
Paul listened to the voice of Jesus and realized that he could not see. A veil had been put in front of his eyes.
And eventually Jesus lifted that veil and Paul preached of the mystery of grace and of the love of God and Paul stopped being violent.
He said that Christ had come to preach peace to all who were far away from God through sin and all who were near to God through their particular faith, so that all would come to Christ and be one family.
Last Sunday night the Oscar for best Picture went to a movie called Green Book.
The title is reference to a book called the Negro Motorist Green Book which was published from 1936-1966 which helped African-Americans find lodging, restaurants and other businesses that would serve them.
The story in the movie is inspired by the true story of a 1962 tour in the American South by African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley accompanied by his chauffeur and bodyguard Tony Vallelonga.
The story certainly touches on the racism in the Southern United States, but in some ways is more about how these vastly different people come to be friends.
At one point they get into an argument and Tony tries to claim that he is darker that Dr. Shirley, meaning that his life has been just as rough if not rougher than Dr. Shirley’s.
And Dr. Shirley says that his affluence has kept him from identifying with his own race, and his race has kept him from being accepted by white people, and his homosexuality has kept him from being accepted by most people of any race, and he feels truly alone in this world.
And by the end of the movie he is not alone any more.
The veil is being lifted in some place in the world about racism and others forms of exclusions…
But there is such a long way to go.
But when I look at Christ and see Christ in his glory, I hear him say to all people of any colour, race, gender, age, creed, faith, health status, wealth, social status or sexual orientation…
Come unto me and I will give you rest.
God loved the world so much, so that everyone who trusts in my way of love will never be excluded, but will find in me a love that is eternal. I will never leave or forsake you or take my love from you.