This week marks the end of Epiphany. The gospel lection at the end of Epiphany is always the transfiguration of Jesus. Epiphany begins with the visit of the Magi who follow the light to find the Christ child and ends with Jesus himself standing before the three disciples of his inner circle as light himself. The self revelation of God in Jesus Christ is well underway.
Our Hebrew Bible lection when read christologically shows us that Moses was a “type” of Christ–meaning that in Moses is to be found certain experiences and realities that are also found, in a more perfect way, in Christ himself. As we encounter the transfiguration of Jesus this Sunday our reading from Exodus reminds us that Moses was also transfigured upon a mountain. The “glow” of Moses’ face after being in the presence of God speaks to the special nature of God being present with the people. With a glowing face Moses gives the cherished Law of the Lord to the people. Yet the people in Moses’ day did not see the special nature of God’s presence as an entirely comforting reality. They feared the glowing. They knew that light comes to shine in the darkness and reveal those things that are hidden. They knew that the Law of the Lord exposed human sinfulness and rebellion. Some things are best left hidden, right?! Because of this Moses wore a veil when with the people, to hide the glowing, lest they shrink back in fear.
Psalm 99 emphasizes the holiness of God–“Holy is he” (verse 3, 5); “the Lord our God is holy” (verse 9) It is interesting to note that the “holiness” of God (God’s separation) is made manifest in God’s establishment of equity and love for justice. The Psalmist goes on to mention three notable priests who did their best to obey the Lord’s laws: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The Psalm asserts that God spoke to these notables out of the pillar of cloud (pillar of smoke). This brings to mind the voice of God that will speak from the cloud to
Peter, James, and John who are gathered at the mountain at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
In our epistle lection Paul directly offers commentary on our Hebrew Bible reading from a christological persepective. Paul believes that in Jesus Christ the veil that separated the glory of God from the people has been removed. Paul says that we can now look upon the
glory of the Christ with unveiled faces. Because of this we are being transformed by the Spirit “from one degree of glory to another.” Paul believes that such a reality has drastic ethical ramifications. A glorified people, sharing in the shining brilliance of the Christ, must “renouce shameful things…[and] refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word.”
Our other readings this week do a great job of providing the necessary backdrop for appreciating the imagery and theology of our Gospel lection recording the transfiguration of Jesus. Above all the transfiguration is meant to show that Jesus represents “God with us” at a level never before achieved this side of the fall. Jesus is the embodiment of the word of God found in the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah). At the same time Jesus goes beyond the Law and the prophets and reaches into “fulfillment.” In Jesus we are finally able to look upon the glory of God without the presence of a veil. It is significant that we hear about the content of the discussion between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The text tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ departure. The full unveiled glory of God will be made known in the suffering Christ. Peter asserts himself, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter’s well intentioned remarks would have kept Jesus on the mountain top, exalted, unreachable, and veiled. Luke’s gospel is purposeful in including the statement that Jesus “came down from the
mountain” signifying his decision to be with the people and begin his walk toward Jerusalem. Significantly as soon as he hits the base of the mountain he is called upon to heal a demon possessed boy, which he does. The glory of God has come to the world.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts, minds, hymns, and thoughts for worship consider the glory of God that has come into the world. Consider how that glory is made known–in self sacrifice, in the establishment of equity, and in the love of justice. Consider what it means for us a gathered worshipping community that the veil has been removed between
us and God.