When I was a kid, my family would get ready for church on Sunday mornings. After cooking breakfast, and making sure all the kids would get up on time, get dressed into something respectable, and be ready to head out the door, my mom used to jokingly say, “now it is time for me to put my face on.” Of course, I was accustomed to the screaming and horror-type looks she used to give us when we got out of line. It is a different, but not radically different, Sunday morning routine that I have these days. I have come to understand that the “putting on of her face” didn’t only mean putting on her make-up, it also meant that she was getting ready to meet others in church. In a way, we all put our faces on when we go out of the house. We all prepare to meet others, leaving our private lives at home, and facing the world of work, of church, and of social life, and put on our public faces. In a way, all of these habits of putting on our public faces is a realization that in our current state, the darkness of what is in and on our hearts has not yet been overcome. I wonder if putting on our face makes the shadows in our hearts a little darker?
The cosmic restoration, as we were introduced last week, came as a kind of revelation. By revealing himself, Joseph initiated a restorative process between Egypt and the Hebrews, between Joseph and his brothers, and began the restoration of Israel the man, and Israel the nation. It happened when Joseph revealed himself. The sin was forgiven, and the dark power was overcome. In what we read today, from the veil of Moses, to our transformation to being like God, to our encounter of the presence of Christ, we will see that it is in the process of revelation that sin is overcome, and we are restored in the face of the dark power within us.
In the passages we have read today, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in his hands. He came down and his face radiated as a result of his talking with God. Although he wasn’t aware of it, his face was shining because he had been in the very presence of God. Aaron and all the Israelites were so filled with awe that they did not approach Moses, and they even apparently fled from him. However, Moses encouraged them to listen as he spoke to them of the stipulations of the New Covenant. His radiant face would serve to authenticate his message and his person.
We read that a radiant brightness glowed from the face of Moses and we are here introduced to the veiling procedure of Moses. The procedure can be divided into two parts. First, when Moses was with the Lord, or when he was reading aloud to the people any of God’s newly given commandments, he was unveiled. Whenever he entered God’s presence in the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he removed the veil until he came out. There was no reason for veiling when he appeared before God (Hebrews 4:13), and there the radiance of his face was recharged, as it were. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Secondly, when Moses finished reading to the Israelites, he put the veil back over his face until he went into speak with God again (34:33-34). Why would he cover his face back up? Certainly it was out of humility. But it was also to accommodate the weakness of the people. The Bible gives us the impression that the radiance slowly faded, until it was recharged in the presence of God. If his face had faded too quickly, the implication is that it would have led to unbelief. After all, it didn’t take much for that group to lose faith.
In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul makes a comparison between the Torah under Moses and the New Covenant under Christ. The most relevant section begins when Paul says: “we act with great boldness.” Moses’ ministry was fading but was accompanied by glory. The gospel, however, has surpassing glory. It is what believers have access to that causes us to be open, that is, bold in our vulnerability. Why? Because, unlike Moses, we do not put a veil over our faces.
Then Paul contrasts Moses and Corinthian believers. What is more, Jewish minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the law; it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away. Yes, whenever the Torah is read, a veil lies over their heart. “But,” says the Torah, “whenever someone turns to God, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
The heart of the matter is found in the last verse of Paul’s account. Believers reflect Christ’s glory because the veil is taken away. We like Moses, see God’s glory. This is why we, too, reflect the glory. The difference is that the glory that we reflect does not fade away, so that we do not need to wear a veil. And our glory does not fade away because, unlike Moses, we are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from God, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Moses had to keep going back to God for repeated exposure to His glory. But we are not like that. For us the veil is taken away and need not be worn, because our glory does not fade – for we are in Christ, and Christ in us. But the question that must be asked is, “Have we met the Lord? Have we each gone to the Lord with removed veil and exposed the dark power of sin in each of our lives?”
Ok, fast forward to this week’s news. Certain examples from this last week act as keen example that the veil is still there. Certainly our politicians are facing the law, and in the facing of the law, have had exposed the veil of pretense. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump alike have given up their access to the moral high road, seen from the perspective of the law. The veil is lifted, and like Moses has feared, we are tempted to lose our faith. We are ashamed of ourselves, if we think we are better, when after declaring ourselves to be a nation that obeys the rule of law, are revealed to be far from that rule. We are ashamed because our chosen political leader travels the same lower road of moral dubiousness as Mr. Trump. In other words, when we pretend to be something we are not we put the veil back on.
But in the process of restoration the veil must be removed. The veil, i.e. our collective efforts to take the moral high road and to present ourselves in the best of all possible lights needs to be removed for cosmic restoration to happen. But the removal of the veil does not come without pain.
We must go through the shame, the terror, and the baring of our sin. We admit we do something wrong; we face the pain of being responsible for so much suffering. God’s glory is sourced in these moments of the manifestation of grace. God’s glory happens when we bring these sins, these embarrassments and lay them in front of Jesus. Approaching Christ without the veil means admitting that we are not better than anyone else, that we let go of the pretense that we don’t need to be vulnerable. For Paul, Christ’s removal of the veil cannot help but be a transformative experience. Seeing the glory of the Lord changes everything. God’s glory is exposed, but so are the depths of God’s mercy.
Even Paul says that he and his coworkers, as recipients of God’s mercy, have the ministry to shine in the darkness and “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:8). Paul sees himself as one whose motives have been laid bare in the light of God’s glory.
Jesus’ Identity and Glory
So now we turn to Jesus on the mountain. The emphasis throughout the episode of Jesus on the mountain is on the dazzling attestation of Jesus’ identity. We are first given the description of his transformed appearance. The change in the appearance of his face is reminiscent of Moses’ face becoming radiant upon experiencing the presence of God. But the description of the change in Jesus’ clothes distinguishes him from Moses significantly: Jesus’ clothes become “dazzling white.” Jesus’ transformed appearance is thus not merely because he is experiencing God’s glory (like Moses) but rather because he is the very source of divine glory. The point is made explicit when the three disciples are said to see Jesus’ glory in verse 32.
The Voice and Presence of God
The most dramatic attestation of Jesus’ identity comes with the voice of God in verse 35. The basic message echoes the divine words spoken at Jesus’ baptism, but there are notable differences:
- The message at Jesus’ baptism was spoken directly to Jesus (“You are my son”), but here the message is for the disciples’ ears (“This is my son”).
- At the baptism the adjective describing Jesus’ sonship was “beloved” — again, a message directed at Jesus — but here it is “chosen,” further describing Jesus’ relationship to God from the disciples’ perspective.
- The message of Jesus’ sonship here is given an imperative implication: “Listen to him!” Jesus’ sonship is not a matter of abstract theology but requires the obedient response of the disciples to Jesus and his message.
- Whereas the voice at the baptism came “from heaven,” here it comes from the very cloud in which the disciples are already enveloped. This suggests a rather intense experience of God’s close presence!
So we have three seemingly loose bits of details that the lectionary offers us today: the veil put on after being in the presence of the Lord, the transformation of Paul and of the Corinthian church, and finally the meeting of the transfigured Christ identified in an intimate encounter on the mountaintop. What are we to understand about these disparate passages of Scripture?
The commentaries accompanying the lectionary recommend that we should seek a more intimate experience of God’s presence in prayer. They also suggest that we should understand ourselves as not needing the veil that covers our fading and faded glory. But my suggestion is that we need to read a little farther into the account of the transfiguration.
Jesus comes down the mountain the next day, and is asked by a father to heal a boy who is demon-possessed. Exasperated, Jesus calls the onlookers and disciples a “faithless and perverse generation.” Faithless, no doubt directed at the disciples who could not exorcise the demon, and perverse, to the whole generation of people listening. By perverse, we should understand that Jesus means that the present generation had a distorted relationship to Him. The transfiguration of Jesus had happened in front of their eyes, and they did not recognize that he was the source of glory.
And that is our challenge today. Do we recognize Jesus as the source of glory, the source of forgiveness, the reason we can take off the veil? Like the father who called Jesus “Teacher”, and asked Jesus to heal, do we also force Jesus into the roles of teacher and healer? Do we recognize the transfigured Jesus as the one who is the source of a cosmically restored reality? Have we met the Lord? Have we, in prayer and fellowship, in worship and in offering, in song and in support, actually met the Lord? Are we not a distorted and faithless generation? Do we grieve that as Canadians, we can no longer ride the high moral road to heaven? Those that were under the law could not. In having a particular theology, do we feel that we can march assuredly in theological truth to glory? Those Pharisees who taught the Torah could not. Jesus is exasperated because even though he was in their midst, he was distorted into a simple healer and teacher. What is perverted is that Jesus is the source of life itself, but is too often distorted to be simply edifying and healing. Jesus had just had a conference with Moses and Elijah, certifying that he was the completion of the Law and the Prophets, and his real identity was not grasped. No wonder that Jesus calls the generation faithless and perverted. No wonder Jesus was exasperated.
Jesus had just confirmed the plan for the salvation of the world, had been identified as God’s own Son, and people acted towards him not knowing who he was. The relationship of that generation with Jesus had not yet gone through the cosmic restoration. The curtain of the temple had not yet been torn. The veil over their eyes had not been lifted.
All too often do we treat the Lord as merely healer and teacher. Do we pray for intercession, but not presence? Do we pray for those afflicted with spiritual suffering, but leave the veil over ourselves in the presence of the Lord? Do we look for exact teaching on scripture, exhortations to good living, good lessons and healing of our bodies but fail to seek the Lord? My invitation today is this: Come and meet the Lord! Let us bring the darkness of our hearts and put it in front of Jesus. Let the transformation of ourselves begin in that moment, where not only are we imbued with God’s glory and the veils we each hold will be forever removed, but we will also experience….. God’s manifest grace.
Paul explains what we will come to know with our whole being when we meet the Lord. He writes: Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever- increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.
Can we remove the veil, confess our sins, seek forgiveness, and like Paul, understand that it is the mercy received there that manifests grace upon the world? Can we look at each other and experience the freedom that comes from the Spirit of the Lord?
Let us, once and for all, manifest grace and freedom because we no longer hold on to the necessity of the veil and let go of all those things that conceal who we are. We can show who we are, be restored to God, and in-so-doing, manifest grace and step into the cosmic restoration that awaits us.