Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.

In the Earth's Children series of novels by Jean Auel, the main character is a woman who has led a very unusual life. Of course, the books take place long before recorded history, during the early days of human existence when people were still living in caves and somewhat nomadic. The story begins with an earthquake, killing the entire family of our heroin, Ayla. She was a five year old child, unable to take care of herself. She is found nearly dead from exposure, hunger and an attack of a cave lion by another group of people - "the Clan." Though the two peoples lived at the same time, they were very different. The Clan was more like cave men, Ayla's people had evolved and adapted much differently.

To our standards, Ayla probably grew up to be a rather lovely woman, but to the Clan she was terribly ugly. They even thought she was deformed because her bone structure was different. She lived in their world, seeing beauty through their eyes. One day she saw her reflection in the water and was shocked - she was truly ugly. Some time later, Ayla left the Clan and met a man like her. He taught her about her people, how they lived and what they believed. He taught her about love, art and beauty. He insisted she was beautiful.

She could not believe him. Months, even years, after she left the clan, she still had difficulty with his compliments. Even after she saw others like herself - beautiful women - she still held up the standard she came to know as a child.

As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Some things that are considered beautiful by some are ugly to others. There are those who love modern art and others who refuse to call it art. Some people love the velvet pictures of dogs playing cards and others find them ridiculous. Some people love to live in the hustle bustle of the city and hate the forest. Others think the city is dirty and noisy and would prefer to live in the fresh air of the country. Some like blondes, others prefer brunettes. To find the perfect person or place is like finding a piece of heaven, of seeing glory. The same person or place may bring a completely different reaction from another.

Moses stood in the presence of God and God's glory shone on to his face. When Moses returned to the people, they were frightened. He looked different because he reflected the glory of God. He was awed by the experience, drawn further into a relationship with the God who had delivered his people out of bondage. He was overwhelmed by the task he was called to do, but he was not afraid. He knew the love and mercy of God, and His grace shone through Moses to the people.

They didn't want to have anything to do with this God. They honored Him for delivering them from slavery, but they did not want to hear His voice or see His face. They were more than willing to allow Moses to be a mediator between them and this God. They were frightened by the thunder on the mountain and the fire they could see.

In the Old Testament story for today, Moses had just returned from getting the Ten Commandments for the second time. The first set was destroyed because the people did not wait for Moses to return from the mountain. He had been gone a long time; they thought he was dead. When he returned with the stone tablets, he found them drunk and dancing, worshipping idols made of gold. They suffered God's wrath for their impatience and disobedience. Many died that day. Yet, God did not abandon His people. Moses returned to the mountain to get a new set of tablets and returned shining the light of God.

That light helped the people see the authority by which Moses spoke. The exodus from Egypt was not easy. A million or more people wandered in the desert for a long time, even before they reached Mount Sinai. They were tired, thirst and hungry. When they set out again, with God's Law in their midst to guide them, the glory that shone from Moses' face was a constant reminder of God's presence among them, and the authority which had been given to Moses.

Unfortunately, beauty fades and the glory does not last. It should not have been necessary for Moses to go around shining like a light bulb, but human nature quickly forgets the things that are not constantly before us. We see what we want to see or what we want to be true. Just when things were getting tough, the people forgot the authority that God had given Moses and they rebelled against him. Rebellion against Moses was rebellion against God.

The passage from Exodus tells us that Moses put a veil over his face to cover the glory. He would remove it to talk to God and keep it off when he told the people God's Word. Then he covered his face. Paul tells us that he did this to hide his face while the radiance faded away. What a powerful image that would be to those who did not like the direction which Moses was leading the people. "See, God has removed His glory! Moses is not the authority here!"

It may have been self-consciousness that made Moses cover his face. Perhaps he was afraid of what would happen if the people saw the fading glory. As we look back on this story with twenty/twenty vision, we know that the glory of the Old Covenant was never permanent, but would be replaced by a greater covenant, a glory that would never fade. That glory would be reflected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Unfortunately, the people were not any more willing to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus than the Hebrews were to see the glory on Moses' face at the foot of Mount Sinai. They did not want a new covenant, they did not like what Jesus had to say. The Law was their salvation, if only they could live by it. They would be righteous like their forefathers, obedient to the letter of the Law not the heart of God. To them the Law was like the veil, covering the glory of God from their eyes. They could not, would not, see His grace.

Have you ever known someone that just seemed to shine the love of God? You can tell by the way they walk and talk that they love the Lord and that they are blessed with a deep and abiding love of God. They do not try to hide the light that shines from their life. They seem to draw people into their lives, those who are seeking to know the grace and mercy of God. But they also repel those who have no desire to know God, those who would rather stick with the status quo and find their own righteousness in this world.

In Christ, we all shine His light, though perhaps there is not a physical glow about our bodies. I doubt that any of us have experienced any kind of transfiguration as was seen by Peter, James and John that day on the mountain. We have not seen a man shine like Moses did when he returned with the tablets. Yet there is something that happens when we know Jesus, something that can be seen in the way we live our lives of faith through which God shares His love with the world.

I wonder what it would have been like to be with Peter, James and John that day. I'd like to believe that I could understand what was happening, that Jesus was giving us a preview of what was to come. The transfiguration was a brief moment in time when God showed the disciples the end of the story - that Christ was the King, the Messiah, the One who would save the world. It was all so overwhelming for those three men, though. There they stood with Elijah and Moses, while Jesus was glorified before their eyes. What did it mean? They could only think in human terms. They did not want this moment to end, because they never wanted the glory to fade.

Yet, we know now that though we could not see the light for a brief moment in time, the glory never faded. As a matter of fact, as we begin Lent in the coming week, we will walk toward the moment that is really the time of glory for our Lord Jesus Christ - not the Resurrection, but the Cross. It is there that Jesus did what He had been sent to do, save men from sin and death. We see the cross as a horrible and ugly thing, something to be passed over so that we can celebrate Easter.

Though we are indeed Easter people, shining the light of Jesus Christ for the world to see, the real moment of glory was when Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world so that we could be set free from all that bound us. The beauty is in the cross, the most foolish and hardest to believe aspect of Christian faith. There could be no resurrection without death, no New Covenant unless the old one passes away. The fading glory of the Law is a joyous thing because it paves the way for the greater glory - the glory of grace in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.

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