A Reading from the Book of 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.
1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8 “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (9:28-36)
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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The saga of Israel’s journey through the wilderness, from Egypt to the Promised Land, is one of the great epics in all of literature. Like its counterparts, it combines a timeless, overarching narrative with a treasury of many, memorable scenes. The story that we heard in today’s first reading is certainly one of them.
At this point in the journey, Moses had come down from Mt. Sinai with the stone tablets of covenant in his hands, only to find that the people had already violated their most basic stipulation by worshiping the golden calf. Moses had thrown the tablets to the ground, smashing them to pieces, just as the Israelites had smashed their covenant with God to pieces by their actions. Yet following Israel’s punishment for their unfaithfulness, the ever-faithful and forgiving and compassionate God had offered them a new beginning. God had inscribed a second set of tablets and directed Moses to take them down the mountain to the people.
When he did, the people saw that his face was shining, as it revealed to them the fading light of the glory of God. From that time on, the story says, Moses kept his face covered with a veil except when the word of God was being conveyed, either from God to Moses or from Moses to the people.
As those who participate in our Adult Forum already know, various artists have portrayed the image of Moses in this scene, sometimes with curious results. But the most interesting thing about this story for me is that fact that Moses has no idea that his face is shining: no idea that the Israelites were seeing the glory of God reflected in him.
This passage is a perfect companion to our gospel story of Jesus’ transfiguration. In this scene, the appearance of Jesus’ face is changed; and he, too, reveals in his face the presence and the glory of God.
But the theme doesn’t stop there. St. Paul, writing nearly thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, reminds us in our reading from Second Corinthians, “All of us… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord.” We, too, bear the image of God. We, too, have been commissioned by God to be people through whom others see God’s face in our face. But, like, Moses, we very well might not recognize that presence.
Or maybe, we do recognize it but try to ignore it. We try to ignore it because being the ones through whom other people come to see the presence of God in their lives carries with it great responsibilities. And the first of these is the responsibility simply to be there with them. The people whom we are called to serve can’t see God’s presence in us if they can’t see us. Our presence, and especially our presence with those in our community and world who are in special need, is an essential element of living the life to which God calls us.
Last Sunday, as part of our Annual Parish Meeting, we participated in some conversations that were focused on our outreach efforts: on the work of this church in serving the needs of the people in the wider community in which we live. These include the hungry, the uneducated, the abused and neglected children, the low-income elderly, the lonely, and others of our neighbors who are in need. Our service to them includes, obviously, the physical things that they lack and that we provide, such as food for the hungry; but it includes also our direct and personal presence with them. They can’t see and experience God’s presence and God’s compassionate care in us if we aren’t there.
And being with them and allowing them to see God in us and in our actions is a responsibility that we all share because of our baptism. It’s not just the work of some of us, and it’s not something that can be delegated to a select few, though many people try to do that.
It is to that approach that today’s readings respond so clearly. They insist: “Going out personally and serving people directly, allowing people to see God’s presence and love through us is not just the work of those who are ordained. It is their responsibility, but it is your responsibility, also. It is not just the responsibility of those whom we elect as our leaders, like those whom we elected last week to serve as our Wardens and Vestry members and Convention Delegates. It is there responsibility, but it is your responsibility also. It is not just something that we can pass off to other groups of people in the church, such as, for example, those involved in special ministries or our youth. It is their responsibility, and they are already doing it, but it is your responsibility also.”
We often try to rationalize our way out of fulfilling our role of going out personally to those who are in need by downplaying what we have to offer them. We use the excuse that “I don’t have what it takes,” that “I am not the kind of person through whom and in whom other people can recognize the presence of the loving God. That’s the work of a saint, and I’m no saint.” But, as 20th-century, American theologian, Paul Tillich, insisted: ‘The saint is a saint not because he is good but because he is transparent for something that is more than he himself is.” The saint is one who allows God to enter people’s lives through her, to shine through her, in order to touch them in a fully human way.
When Moses’s face shone but he didn’t even know it, he might well have been surprised that anyone could see God shining in their lives through him. After all, just a few years earlier, he was just another common shepherd, looking after a flock of sheep out in the wilderness. And when Jesus’s face was changed and his three companions recognized God’s presence in him, he might well have reflected on the fact that, a few years earlier, he had been working as an ordinary carpenter in some out-of-the-way town up in Galilee.
We all have been enlightened by Christ in baptism, and we all have been commissioned by God and by God’s church to be the people in whose faces those around us, especially those who are in need, can see the glory and compassion and love of God shining. As the old saying has it, your caring words are the only gospel that many people will ever hear; and your face is the only face of God that most people will ever see. But in order for that to happen, you’ve got to be there.