Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Holy God, you know the disorder of our sinful lives: set straight our crooked hearts, and bend our wills to love your goodness and your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Holy God, we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ: may we who are partakers at his table reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world may know his power to change and save. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD’S presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
1 The Lord is king: let the peoples tremble;
he is enthroned upon the cherubim: let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion
and high above all peoples.
3 Let them praise your name, which is great and awesome;
the Lord our God is holy.
4 Mighty king, who loves justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Exalt the Lord our God;
bow down before his footstool, for he is holy.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests
and Samuel among those who call upon his name,
they called upon the Lord and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;
they kept his testimonies and the law that he gave them.
8 You answered them, O Lord our God;
you were a God who forgave them
and pardoned them for their offences.
9 Exalt the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill,
for the Lord our God is holy.
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the 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 the Spirit.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2
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 throws him into convulsions 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.
Sermon on the Sunday Before Lent
Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?’
To whom did Jesus address these words? The man whose boy was afflicted had spoken to Jesus, complaining about the powerlessness of his disciples, but is Jesus berating him? Or, more distressingly, is Jesus complaining to and about his impotent disciples? Does Jesus really condemn the innocent man who sought a miracle for his child? Or does Jesus castigate his own disciples?
How faithless or faithful every generation is, has been a theme in our readings for the last few weeks. It is a theme throughout the OT. Naturally it comes into the NT as a theme in all the miracle stories, as well as being the background theme in all the gospels and in Paul’s letters.
I wonder whether there is some sort of correlation between the ancient Hebrews who were with Moses and the contemporaries of Jesus. Were so many hardhearted or faithfully perverse? Were their minds so dim that they could not understand the commandments the prophets preached in their own times? What about our own generation?
However, I wonder, is Paul’s interpretation of the events around Moses right? And if it is misleading, has the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church been off course for such a long time?
The Exodus reading tells us that Moses put the veil over his face because his face shone with a light unknown, a brilliance the people of God had not seen before. Paul accepts that Moses did use the veil when he departed from the presence of God. But I think, in this case, he interprets the veil to have a different significance than the literal given in the text.
Instead of shielding the people of Israel from something so very different to the normal course of events – in that world where people’s faces don’t shine with a divine light – Paul suggests that Moses veiled his face because the light was fading from his visage, and then interprets the veil as a simile to the state of mind abroad in Israel, that they were ignorant of God’s wisdom, just as the people surrounding Paul were obtuse, that God was fading in Israel.
I think Paul’s is a dangerous interpretation overall, though it is true there is a hardheadedness among Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries, even among the disciples. I think that is why Jesus rounded upon everyone at times – he even turns on us here today, if we take the biblical readings as our own, written for and to us.
Jesus had the same experience as Moses, didn’t he? He talked with God on the mountaintop and in quiet places. Our gospel reading tells us that he was dazzling white on the mountaintop. The messengers of God were with him on the summit – Moses and Elijah were his companions on that holy place. It was another light unknown, a light seen by these befuddled fisherman who had just been cowering in their boat when the storm raged.
On the mountain, the cloud descended. Chaos and darkness reigned in the hearts of those favoured disciples on the mountain-top with Jesus. I would like to say, a veil over the scene was drawn with that cloud. There was a very strange darkness, they had no light to see their way.
I wonder whether any of you have been on a mountain when the mists rolled down, when you could only see where to place your feet. I can tell you, this is a most frightening event, one that even experienced climbers fear. The fog descends like a thick blanket on the mountain and everything is hushed, everything is hidden. No one is sure about anything in that white darkness. Fear grasps the soul and nothing is comprehended.
This cloud descending is just like that veil which was drawn over Moses’ face. Both stories are about fear in the face of divine light – the light which emanated from the faces of the great prophets like Moses and Elijah, and now Jesus becomes one of that number.
We know that we are transformed at times, don’t we? When we are in the first flush of love, it does change us. We see the world in a new light, and everyone around us does notice a new person in front of them. This is a very simple example, and a transient one. The change, however, is not permanent, is it? The young love fades to a comfortable love, and sometimes even into a stale love. Yes, our human love can fail. There are too many examples of that. Divorce seems to prove that. We do know that human love can pass away, even though in the first flush, it seems nothing can assail it. That love can just become everyday and no longer dazzling.
But imagine someone whose love never fades, someone who is passionate throughout all of life. Don’t we all put a veil over that person because we are ashamed at our own lukewarm love?
Such a changed person is Moses and Jesus is the wholly transformed person, for he is completely human and completely divine. We address him as “My Lord and my God!” This is something wholly other to human experience. No wonder the ancient Jews had to be protected from the divine radiance with the veil! No wonder the clouds came down on the disciples. We always veil the sacred in our lives, sometimes making it invisible.
Paul is right in that something has happened on each of the mountaintops. However, I don’t think the event warrants a condemnation of humanity. We are too often benighted, and we need to see the light for what it is.
Who today can view God and not be transformed? Can your face remain dull and lifeless after you have been in the presence of the divine? Moses and Jesus were utterly transformed, weren’t they? Moses face glowed with a divine glow, Jesus became dazzling bright. Aren’t we changed when we show ourselves to be followers of Jesus, that we are utterly different from the mass of humanity because we love one another, we become neighbours all, on the street and on the globe, every person you meet on your way in the world.
We do not appear like the mass of humanity, because our lives shine so very differently, so let us not put a veil over them.