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Veiled Shining, Transfigured Glory

Preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA Feb. 10, 2013 the Last Sunday after Epiphany.
Transfiguration Sunday, Year C (RCL): Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise, and ever enjoy its consolations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes our church calendar makes my head spin with the quick change of seasons.  Was it not even 50 days ago that we were celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger as the Word Incarnate come into this world?  The angel announced the coming of the Lord to the shepherds tending their flocks at night, the heavenly hosts sang, and the glory of God shone all around!


Then came Epiphany, where Herod worried about his kingship, the Magi came bearing gifts to the Holy Family, and then suddenly the Baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by John.  There in the River Jordan was the Epiphany of God with the manifestation of the Messiah before the whole world.  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Today we arrive at Transfiguration Sunday, where we straddle between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of yet another church season.  This week, we’ll be noshing on pancakes to celebrate Shrove Tuesday before we enter into that holy and blessed penitential season of Lent.  Wow!  Where does the time go? 


Today signals the transition from the Incarnational Cycle of God breaking forth into the world through the birth of Jesus to the Paschal Cycle of Christ which culminates with the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.  We quickly move from O Little Town of Bethlehem to O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded to Hail Thee, Festival Day!  But today we find ourselves at a crossroads.



Our lessons from Exodus, Second Corinthians, and the Gospel according to Luke tell us that witnesses to the glory of God will be unable to avoid reflecting that glory in the world.  It was true of Moses as he came down from Mt. Sinai to renew God’s Covenant with the people of Israel.  It was undoubtedly true also for Peter, James and John when they witnessed the meeting of the Law, represented through Moses, and the Prophets represented by Elijah, with Jesus, God’s Incarnate Word in the World.  


We pray that it will be true of all of us also who see the glory of the Lord in the world, and in the supper to which we all join around this table, and in those who are being “transformed into the same image” by the Spirit of God.


God is always being revealed in ways that can both surprise and confuse us, whether it be shining forth from the face of Moses on a mountaintop, or in the dazzling appearance of Jesus, or after Christ dies on the Cross and later rises from the tomb.  God’s presence and God’s glory is a mystery to us.  But the Mystery therein is what we seek.  We dare to catch a glimpse of the Glory of God.  


Today we have two different mountain-top experiences: Mt. Sinai of the Old Testament and the Mount of Transfiguration in the New Testament, where the same illuminating Glory of God shines forth.  We know, because of the first prediction of the Passion, that another mountain looms ahead, ... one outside the walls of Jerusalem ... where a cross waits.  


Moses’ long communion with God shows in his face when he returns to the people: he actually begins to reflect something of God’s own glory.  God was in him and shining out, just as the face of Jesus “did shine as the sun” when he was transfigured.  The Transfiguration was a sort of grand climatic testimony direct from heaven that Jesus was The One in whom all Old Testament prophecies converged and found their fulfillment.  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  The dazzling appearance helped confirm the faith of the disciples in the Divine Nature of Christ against the shock of the days to come.  God’s future breaks into the present to reveal God’s Glory.


About the glory of God, William Porcher DuBose wrote this: “... the humiliation of Jesus was his glorification, that his deepest passion was his highest action, his bittersweet suffering his highest perfection, his death for the world the life of the world ...”


But Jesus’ suffering and death is enclosed in this dazzling foreshadowing of the Resurrection, this Transfiguration.  Here God affirms Jesus’ identity.  The disciples are stunned speechless.  We begin to understand the Jesus that we put on the Cross is the One who will save us.  In fact, in the bracketed verses of today’s Gospel that we did not hear, Jesus comes down from the mountain and resumes his mission with a demonstration of his power over evil by rebuking an unclean spirit that has long convulsed a youth.


In his debate with the Corinthians, Paul contrasts the glory of Moses with the glory of Christ.  The Israelites were afraid of Moses’ face because of the brightness and then it began to fade so Moses veiled it from the people.  But in Christ we see the true unveiled glory of God and by seeing it fully, we are transformed into Christ’s likeness.  The old covenant had been replaced by a new life-giving one.


Transfiguring Love has frustrated disciples, both past and present.  Many have sought an unmediated experience of God.  Yet even when God is revealed in shining glory, there is much that remains veiled and hidden from us. There is Mystery.  And conversely, that which is God within us may be shrouded and not seen also.  


So I began to think about veils and how they are used in different ways.  Why are veils used?  What do they cover or hide?  What do they reveal? 


Women in Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other traditions as well use veils.  Some cover their heads.  Others veil their faces.  Still others drape and shroud their entire body.    It has been suggested that first you veil your heart, then you veil your head.  It is considered a sign of humility, submissiveness and obedience.  We are familiar with wedding veils.  Some men in African and Eastern cultures also wear veils.  


Consider the different roles between women and men?  Some may imitate Mary.  Others may show reverence to Jesus. 


Veils are also used to cover significant religious items.  In the Old Testament, we think of the tabernacle that was the locus of God’s presence among the Hebrew people.  There was a tent-like veil or curtains.  In Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies was set apart from the rest of the temple.


Veronica, as she saw Christ bearing his cross through the streets toward Calvary, removed her veil so Jesus could wipe his face.


Practices we carry forward from that time then to our worship today include the use of a pall and veil on the communion stack when placed on the altar.  The veiled chalice highlights both the relationship and distinction between the two main parts of our liturgy, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table (or Eucharist).  The Gospel book contains God’s Word and the vessels of paten and chalice will contain the Body and Blood of Our Lord.  They are adorned with dignity and veiled with grace so that we might approach God’s holy altar with awe and wonder.


During funerals, the veil or pall which covers a casket, coffin or urn has a theological meaning.  As Frank Wade puts it, the pall shows that all before God “are viewed the same.” 


This Transfiguration Sunday, we have left Bethlehem and moved through Galilee to now turn our sights toward Jerusalem.  As we walk with Jesus along The Way, we get a sense that this mission will be accomplished.  We see a glimpse of God’s glory.  We look into heaven, and there with the Law and the Prophets, we see God’s time breaking open out of sequence to show us the Salvation of the World.  We need no booths built to mark the place of God for God is everywhere.  And Time as we know it moves from chronos to kairos, when the time of God is fully present, at all times and in all places.


Those of you who are friends on Facebook know I regularly post items from Brother, Give Us a Word, a daily reflection offered by members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.  One recent entry from Br. Mark Brown said, “Our service to others, our generosity and graciousness are nothing less than the embodiment of the Divine Life active within us.  We incarnate, we put flesh and blood on the impulse of the Spirit of Christ active within us.”


So I ask you: How do you put flesh and blood on the impulse of the Spirit of Christ in you?  How does God’s glory shine forth in and from you?  Or me?  Remember that Jesus taught us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Amen.