Last Sunday after Epiphany

Ex. 34:29-35Ps. 992 Cor. 3:12-4:2Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)

The Lord sits above the cherubim, not merely above the earth, but above heaven (Ps. 99). Presiding over all being, God is holy. The mere thought for a human, which can barely be thought and never fully known, is to tremble and quake, to feel what is great and wonderful, to be moved deeply even if in contemplative stillness. To think of God is to extol, to go up, to transcend, and to wonder. God is on the holy mountain, the summit above being “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” (Anselm).

Moses went up to be with “he who is.” Moses talked with God as with a friend, face to face. One face, however, burned the other; Moses took on something of the fear and wonder and brilliance of the distant and high God. Seeing Moses, the people were afraid (Ex. 34:30). In radiant wonder, he shared what he had heard from the sacred voice; then, in concession to their fear, he veiled himself until called again to the high place where God is and God speaks. The veil was off for moments: moments of intense divine meeting and moments of communal instruction.

St. Paul’s suggestion that Moses covered his face to keep the people from seeing “the end of the glory that was being set aside” may be disputed on the grounds that the thrust of the original story is quite different, although exegetical risk-taking is hardly uncommon. His polemic, however, says something true for the Christian dispensation. It is possible to read the Law or the Bible with minds that are hardened, veiled. Part of what Paul means by “boldness” is the claim that a veil has been removed so that not only Moses, representing all divine delegates in the Old Testament, but all people may see the glory of the Lord in Christ Jesus and be transformed into that image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). Those who stand in Christ, then, stand where Moses did upon the holy mountain, and so are transformed into the divine light.

Jesus is that presence among us in all its fullness. “The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands” (John 3:35). Therefore, those who believe the Son have eternal life; for that precisely is what and who the Son is. This is shown dramatically in the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus goes up to where God is; that is, he ascends into himself. Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets) appear, revealing Jesus’ continuity with God’s long plan. They disappear, fading that he may increase. Jesus shines in glory, his face is changed, his garments blaze like the sun. Strikingly, the story never says that his countenance returned to its former state. A cloud and voice reveal this: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Finally, Jesus, in a sense, descends to the flat earth again, where he finds people who shriek and convulse and wail, even little children left languishing.

A desperate man says to Jesus, “Look at my son.” Does he know that the Son only does what he sees the Father doing? Does he know the Son looks upon the Father and the Father looks upon the Son in a joyful gaze of unending love? And certainly, in love and fear, he is saying many things, saying at the very least, “Look at my son,” “Look into my son,” “Look with compassion on my Son, my only son.” Jesus looks and shares with this child the gaze he shares with the Father in love.

Look It Up: Read Ex. 34:29. Move consciousness to the warmth in your face.

Think About It: The radiant look heals.

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