When last I spoke to you about Moses he had gotten a peek at God’s back. God passed by, speaking the whole time to Moses, and Moses wrote what he heard. He re-copied the Ten Commandments, wrote some major worship instructions (God took a long time to pass by, I don’t know, God was walking slow or something), and then, finally, comes today’s First Reading. Moses comes down the mountain and he does not know that God has irradiated his face. His friends see him, scream, and run away. Moses says, “Guys! Get back here! What the heck?” They say, “Moses, your face is glowing!” He says, “…fine, whatever. Look: God gave me important stuff to say,” and he shares it. But they keep starring at his face, so he veils it. He veils it because they are obsessed with it and not with the God who gave it to him.
That’s how Paul, in our Second Reading, interprets the scene. Moses and the Law he personifies are temporary. Moses would die. The Law was destined to be obliterated. So Moses, Paul says, must have placed the veil on his face so that Israel would not stubbornly gaze on what was destined to be abolished. But Israel is resourceful when it comes to missing the point: “We’ll show you, Moses; we’ll just stare at the veil!” This is more than just looking at the temporary. Paul argues that “a veil lies over their very minds.” They became utterly obsessed with the veil, saw nothing but the veil. Persistent gazing upon the veil has resulted in the veil being over them. Just so, we are tempted not only to gaze upon the temporary, but to have the temporary block our sight.
Consider Trinity today. In our pews is the Red Book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. But once upon a time there was THE RED BOOK, the Service Book and Hymnal, the one true hymnal, peace be upon it. Replacing it with the Green Book of 1978 proved ugly in many places. I don;t know how it went down here. I know a congregation in southern Pennsylvania where the dispute over which hymnal to use led members to wear green or red campaign buttons to declare their support for one hymnal or the other. (Instead of Feel the Bern and Make America Great Again it was Green Book and Red Book.) And they debated like political candidates, held rallies. …How do you explain that to your friends? “Wanna go out tonight?” “Can’t. I’ve gotta volunteer at Red Hymnal Campaign Headquarters.”
Of course, if you want to talk about political campaigning, can anything compare with our endless presidential races? Every four years we convince ourselves that our problem is that we don’t have the right person in the Oval Office. But this time we’ve got The One. I know I said that last time and every time before it but this time’s really gonna be different, I can feel it. And all I have to do is push the button or punch the hole or pull the lever. Vote: cast. Candidate: elected. World: repaired. You’re welcome. Well, elections come and go. But the issues remain. Yet we stubbornly refuse to see anything but Presidential candidates. We ignore the people who would have to work with our candidate if he or she got elected, and all the people who can’t stand our candidate, and all the work we would have to do ourselves if we honestly wanted the world to be a better place. The issues remain.
Oh! those issues. This week Trinity provided space for a constituent meeting between Senator Ed Charbonneau and some members and allies of the Transgender community. You know, SB344 died this year, so: no protections, no exemptions, back to the drawing board. But the Senator agreed to meet, and we opened our library for it. If you want to see something temporary and transient, check out Gender. Gender isn’t biological; it’s cultural. We’ve grown to understand that and that knowledge is finally becoming mainstream. Just because you’re born with guy parts doesn’t mean you particularly like guy stuff, and for some it runs much deeper than that and you realize you aren’t really a guy at all. That’s new to many of us, and it’s challenging even to those who deal regularly with it, because we’re fixated on the temporary. The temporary veils our sight.
The fix? Paul writes, “Only in Christ is it set aside.” Christ obliterates the veil. Christ annihilates the temporary which hangs over our minds and instead we see the true glory of God in Christ. Luke narrates this. Peter is “weighed down with sleep,” perhaps in a trance, when he suddenly sees Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus. Peter knows it’s Moses—we don’t know how—but it isn’t Moses’ face that gets the attention; Jesus’ face glows. Christ has removed Moses’ veil from Peter, and now Peter sees that this is no longer just a prayer retreat with his teacher; this guy is God.
It’s Transfiguration. Only, Luke never uses that word. Jesus is not transfigured in Luke. Today, February 7, 2016 (Transfiguration Year C), Jesus does the transfiguring to us. That’s what Paul ultimately declares to Corinth and to us when he writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” It’s slow going, at first. Hard to miss that Jesus’ first words after God says, “listen to him,” are, “You faithless and perverse generation!” Transfiguration takes a while. The disciples aren’t quite there, yet. Soon, though, Jesus will send them to preach. He will rise from the dead and forgive them for abandoning him. He will give them the Holy Spirit. They will do things he never did. For they are being transfigured, and so are we.
I saw Christ transfigure us at a constituent meeting. As transgender persons in varying degrees of transition revealed their pain, their fear, their struggle, their humanity. And Senator Charbonneau, clearly learning their sensitivity, closed his notebook and listened and asked good questions. And he, in turn, revealed his humanity to some who had previously known him only as a name associated with opposition to their life.
I saw Christ transfigure us as we shared the harvest of our Holy Conversations. People began stepping forward privately—don’t worry, your identity is safe for now, and I know there will be more of you—and dreaming of new possibilities. And I could see the future beginning to take shape.
I saw Christ transfigure us as local citizens gathered to discuss basic human rights in the City of Valparaiso, not waiting to see which candidate could claim victory in Iowa (apparently, all of them did) but working here and now with what God has given us.
I see Christ transfigure us when we do things like say farewell to the Alleluias and enter a period when we allow our worship to call us to return to God; or when we eat and drink Christ served from a table decorated with non-perishables destined for the pantry so that we enact Christ’s radical food distribution; or when we pray together with our neighbors for the things they need.
I see these things, and I see Moses removing his veil. He doesn’t need it any more, apparently. And I say to him, “Moses…pardon me for asking, but, didn’t your face used to glow?” And Moses says, “Oh, it still does. You just don’t notice. Christ has transfigured so many of the people around you it is hard to see mine.”