By Sherry Black
A Reading from Exodus 34:18-35
18 “You shall keep the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.
19 “All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.
“No one shall appear before me empty-handed.
21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Festival of Weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.
25 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the sacrifice of the festival of the Passover shall not be left until the morning.
26 “The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.
“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
27 The Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face, 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off until he came out, and when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining, and Moses would put the veil on his face again until he went in to speak with him.
Moses descends yet again from Mt. Sinai after 40 days. He is, again, carrying the tablets of the law. And now the people see him with his face glowing, shining from his time talking with God! It is so disturbing that the people don’t want to be near him for fear. So, when he isn’t speaking, Moses wears a veil to cover his face. We might imagine what life was like under the veil: out and about with his neighbors, having dinner with his wife, playing with his grandchild. He removes the veil to speak to God, and then to talk with his people, and then he puts the veil back on, for as long as they remain at Mt. Sinai.
It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to say that Moses’ veil was replaced by the temple veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies — reserved only for the high priest. The same veil, or curtain, was ultimately rent in two at Christ’s death. We have been reconciled with God once and for all through Christ’s death and resurrection.
I also can’t help but think about the “veils” we have been wearing for two years. I remember feeling disoriented for many reasons when we first resumed in-person worship, and not the least being looking out at a church populated by veiled, masked faces.
My hope and prayer for us, then and now, is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
[And] all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Being transformed is the result of the veil being torn; it is the consequence of resurrection. Thanks be to God!
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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The Diocese of Lincoln – The Church of England
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