Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lectionary: 2/10/2013 - Transfiguration Sunday (C)

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Over the last several weeks, we've heard stories of Jesus as he grows and begins his ministry during the season of Epiphany.  We've been getting used to the idea of God incarnate, coming to us.  This week, Transfiguration Sunday, we're about to get into Lent, so we change gears a bit.  This week is about how God's power changes, or transfigures, those who speak with God, do God's will, and help God's people.  During Lent we will be shifting in time a bit and hear about the end of Jesus' ministry- the stories from the middle are told during the summer, in "Ordinary Time".

Exodus 34:29–35
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. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 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, 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.

Very often, these days, when we talk about God, we try to emphasize having a personal relationship with God, and how much God loves us, and how human Jesus was, and so on.  And all of that is certainly true.  But there is another side as well.  We cannot describe God completely without including God's power.  Moses was apparently pretty terrified when God first spoke to him from the burning bush.  Here, God's power is so raw and direct when they speak together that Moses has to wear a veil to protect himself.  Don't forget in the Christmas story, when the angel appears to the shepherds, the first thing the angel says is "Don't be afraid!"- which I have to think means that they were.

God loves us, and Jesus was human, yes.  But God is also so powerful that Moses' face would shine after a conversation on the mountaintop.  Over and over again in the Bible, when God appears to someone, the first reaction is often partly stunned amazement, and partly fear at the incredible power on display.  God has told us not to be afraid, but we do need to be told that as well.  And we cannot speak about God honestly if we forget this aspect.

Psalm 99
The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.
O Lord our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.

This is what's called a praise Psalm, which means it was written to praise God.  It focuses mostly on God's power, which is probably why it was chosen for this Sunday, and Moses and Aaron get a mention.  Notice how it also mentions God's justice twice- and when it talks about God as the "avenger of their wrongdoings" don't make the mistake of thinking it's talking about the wrongdoings done against Moses and Aaron.  They did screw up themselves as well a few times, and the Bible records God's justice towards them.

I think the mention of Samuel here is interesting- he's one of the few in the Bible whose first encounter with God was unknowing and not frightening at all.  The "called on his name" bit is sort of an in-joke for those who read all about it in 1 Samuel, chapter 3.

2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 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.
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

This week we skip ahead a bit, to the next book, to get to this part where Paul talks about Moses.  Why does Paul say that "only in Christ is [the veil] set aside"?  Again, throughout the Bible, people directly encountering God were always bowled over by the power of God's presence- unless God was coming to them as Jesus Christ, human and divine at once.  Many people were certainly very stunned by Jesus as well, but not in the same way.  The need for the veil that Moses wore wasn't there when people spoke to Jesus.

Paul then also points out that, as the Spirit works in each of us, we can see God in each other, and that does not require the veil either, because God's power and glory is "reflected in a mirror"- each other.  We have nothing to hide because we are surrounded by God's presence in each other, every day.

Luke 9:28–36
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. 

So, Jesus has been beginning his ministry, sort of getting things going.  He was baptized, he did a miracle at his mother's suggestion at a wedding, he went home after a bit (and got thrown out).  He's found the disciples, and they've been traveling around together for awhile by this point (notice we've skipped several chapters ahead again, the church year intervenes in our nice linear readings sometimes).

And yet here Peter has no frame of reference.  He clearly has no idea what to do- he wants to be helpful, so he comes up with the idea of making them dwellings, but it's a bit nonsensical.  (I'm not sure, but I've always figured there has to be a connection to the Jewish festival of Sukkot in there somewhere.)  When confronted with Moses and Elijah- not to mention Jesus taking on a very different look than usual- he doesn't know what to do.

I've never really decided if I think that God is answering Peter's unspoken "What should I do now?" directly, but I have to say, if you have no idea what you're doing, listening to Jesus is often a good idea.

Love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

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