This morning Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand. He had spoken to God up there on that mountain, and therefore when he came down his face was shining, reflecting the glory of God. So when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw his face brightly shining, they were afraid. It was too much for sinners to bear. The shame of the golden calf was still bitter on their hearts, and just like Adam and Eve, they hid their faces from the Lord.
The glory on Moses’ face was so bright he had to cover his face. And that veil, much like the temple curtain in the tabernacle, was a sad reminder of the separation between God and man caused by sin, and at the same time, a hopeful reminder of the promise to come, when God would come veiled in the incarnation His Son – to tear every boundary down.
It’s all really a setup for today’s Gospel. Because this morning Jesus goes up a mountain with Peter, James, and John. And Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became white as light. You might say the veil, the covering, had been lifted, and the full divinity of Jesus is on full display – shining forth for all to see.
And there on the top of that mountain are the two VIP saints of the Old Testament – Moses and Elijah. The best committee or church council you’ve ever seen. They’re talking about the exodus – talking about the cross – talking about the fulfilment of all God’s promises and the communion which will soon take place between God and man at the cross.
At this moment the glory cloud covered them, and the voice of the Father in heaven spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Like those Israelites who received Moses coming down from Sinai with his face shining, those disciples, Peter, and James, and John, are terrified too. They covered their faces. This unfiltered glory was just too much to bear. But then Jesus says the best words we could ever hope to hear: “Don’t be afraid.” And when they lifted their eyes, they saw His face – the face of the Lord. And He told them not to be afraid.
And why not? Well, Jesus is coming down that mountain to go right up another, Mount Calvary. And at that mountain His glory is going to shine even brighter, because He’s going to lay down His life on the cross and take it up again. But first He’ll be disfigured by our sins. Covered with our shame. Bearing in His body the price of our salvation. And He’ll triumph over it all by His resurrection, and so transfigure these bodies of ours from death to life.
When Jesus is risen from the grave, those words to His disciples are the same as on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Don’t be afraid.” That’s the preaching of the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Meaning that the veil, the covering cast over all people, is finally lifted.
I hope you can see what this day is all about. The Lord appeared to Moses in the light of the burning bush. Later Moses’ face would shine with the reflected light of God’s glory when he came down from Mount Sinai. But now at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear with the one is Light Himself.
The season of Epiphany climaxes today. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, which Moses and Elijah represent. This morning we see Him manifest His majesty as the eternal Son of the Father. And He invites us into a glimpse of what to look forward to – a glory that we will all share in the resurrection on the Last Day.
Because what we see on the mountain is also a glimpse into our own future. “Beloved,” wrote St. John, “we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is!” Also Paul wrote, “When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory!” That is, you too will be transfigured. You too will shine like the Son in His kingdom.
Today in our readings you’ve probably noticed there is a lot about faces. Lots about coverings and veils. Nearly impossible to ignore the connection with these interesting days we’re living in.
Earlier this week, I drove past a billboard that said the following: “Covering your face is a small sacrifice.” It’s the small sacrifice part that struck me. It may be true, depending upon your perspective. But let’s not pretend being deprived of hugs from our friends and seeing a smile from our neighbor is a small thing. It’s hard to deny that having a meaningful friendly conversation with a stranger has become increasingly challenging. An inability to read facial expressions and communicate in the intricate detail and wonder of the human countenance is no small thing. And no other part of the body reveals the soul and humanity of the person like the face.
Covering up may very well be the right thing to do in certain circumstances. But let’s not pretend there’s not a significant psychological, social, and theological cost here. Or not let’s not get too used to it!
We recently took the baby with us on an errand. When she woke up in the store crying a mom’s covered face only made things worse. Only after the mask was pulled down to reveal a mother’s face did the tears stop flowing.
The beatific vision of heaven is described at the highest and most personal form of communion with God and also with one another. It is to see God’s face in the person of His Son – a privilege which we do well to ponder in the Sacrament of the Altar.
This morning Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” And it’s true. We walk out of here this morning free from shame and our faces beaming with joy. Because the thing is, you’ve come face to face with the glory of God and He hasn’t turned away from you. Peter says up on that mountain, “It is good, Lord, to be here.” And it’s true. Because here is where He makes His face to shine upon you. It’s here that He promises to be gracious to you. It’s here that the Lord lifts up His countenance upon you and gives you peace.
You can depart this day, holding your head high with the forgiveness of sins, being strengthened to serve your neighbor in whatever way you can. And as the Psalmist says, “those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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