Readings: Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36
May the God’s word speak to us, may the Spirit open our hearts and Christ guide us in the way. Amen
Moses, the shining glory of God and the veil. It could be the title of a bestselling mystery novel, couldn’t it, designed to intrigue and to mystify – as all good mysteries should do.
And to be perfectly honest the reading of the story is somewhat mysterious. We have Moses down from the mountain, the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, ready to share God’s glory, God’s word with the people but totally unaware that his transformation shines out through his face, blinding and scaring those around him. And when they hang back - he beckons them to come near, speaks of his encounter with God, then and only then covers his face with a veil - which he takes off each time he goes to speak with the Lord. It strikes me that there were some interesting analogies in this story around how we meet and respond to the glory of God. For I think it’s fair to say that we tread lightly around ‘glory’ theology these days, somewhat ambivalent about how that fits in with the humility and self-denial that is emphasised in the theology of the cross – where love is the sacrifice for the sins of all.
What is one to make of the brightness of God in this text from Hebrew Scriptures and in the Gospel reading of the Transfiguration?
Well for a start - it was scary! Scary to the people of the Exodus, scary to the disciples on the mountain top, scary too to the Bethlehem shepherds when they were faced with the glory of God. A powerful moment, terrifying in its beauty, a beauty that disconcerts and confuses and renders otherwise sensible people senseless. Why? Is it a threat – behave or this is what I can do! Or is there something more?
Maybe these are the moments that strip us down, silence our religious chatter and force us to remember that we are on holy ground, in the presence of the God who is glorious, more beautiful and loving and intricately part of this life than we can imagine.
Can you take a moment to think of these glory moments in your experiences? The times when you felt the touch of the God who is more profoundly part of you than your ordinary moments would ever allow. These moment are renewing, humbling, embracing, full of light and power, they are God moments. They are the moments that strengthen you as you walk in the valley of the shadows, that allow you to minister in the midst of doubt and overwhelming odds, that bring the splendour of God into the ordinary and routine.
This reading is also a reminder to us that we are to reflect this same glory – as people proclaiming God’s word we, like Moses, are to have the light shining from our faces. I don’t mean the fixed grin of fanaticism or the determinedly cheerful smile of duty but rather the light that shines from within. I suspect many of you would recognise one or many in your circle of church, family and friends of whom you could say – their face shines out with love and compassion and surety of some transformation in their lives? I think of one person I know and just seeing her never ceases to remind me of the beauty of the presence of God in her life. Too often we hide the joy of our faith under the cloak of modesty and humility (and dare I say decency and good order) – and by doing so we restrict and contain the holy mystery of God and our witness to that glory.
Now this is not a call to dance ecstatically through Opoho streets (although if that be your wish who am I to stop you) but it is a reminder, shall we say, to allow the good news of Jesus Christ to be reflected in who we are and how we are perceived and received by others. I remember once in a church in Christchurch preaching on the theme of joy: that Christ in our lives and our world is good news which we should celebrate and share – and then, confident that I had got the message across introduced the next hymn – ‘To God be the Glory’ and what did we get? Toooo Goooood beee theee gloooooory..... Awful!
But the glory of God is not just about our feeling good and letting others see it – that is too simplistic, too restrictive. The glory of God brings us directly to the disturbing events of Easter – the humility and pain of betrayal on the cross making Easter morning almost unbearably bright for all of us: rendering us speechless and awestruck by a God whose love is so great as to dispel even death.
Jesus, transfigured, changed forever in the power of God, came down from the mountain to fulfil the promise of a gloriously loving God – to set his feet on the path to Jerusalem, to the cross and to the transforming moment of resurrection and new life.
A church in the US, aptly called Transfiguration Lutheran Church, kept its doors shut to the struggles in the community around, preferring the rarefied atmosphere of exclusivity, but then, in a transfiguring moment, they too came down from the mountain, threw open the doors, stepped into the neighbourhood and cared for all in the midst of the pain and hunger, healing themselves as well.
A people, having crept closer to hear what God had to say to them, were transformed by the light of the one sent to bring the Good News and went out to be that light to all who lived in darkness
So – be astounded by the glory of God, be thrown off your foundations occasionally, be blinded by the light, – so that you too might go and do likewise. Amen