When Moses had finished speaking with them [the Israelites], 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. Exodus 34.33-35 NRSVA
Moses talks to God face to face, unveiled. His face shines. He has to walk veiled not to disturb his own people, God’s own people. Why? And what of it?
All the readings today have one thing in common, and that thing is – all of them feature a veil. Moses covers his face with a veil, 2 Corinthians explains a veil, and on the Mount of Transfiguration the veil is present by its conspicuous absence.
Veil is mentioned for 22 unique times in NRSVA translation, sometimes synonymous with curtain. Other translations might have a different count. And in those 22 Bible verses, both of the Old and the New Testament, one can see different functions of the veil. Those then can be grouped in the following manner:
a) by the place
-over face (Moses, Song)
-over mind and heart (Corinthians)
– over writing (Corinthians, Hebrews)
– separating the most holy place from the rest of the Tabernacle
b) by function
– covers what must not be seen
– indicates a secret (Song, Tabernacle) (by extension, vellum)
– protects (Song, Isaiah)
– does not let the unworthy through (Holy of Holies)
– loss of the veil is shameful for a woman
– wearing a veil is shameful for a man
So we can see that veils not only cover or separate, but also reveal and protect. As a metaphor, veil is often used to indicate a mystery, something that cannot be pronounced out loud, but is essential for life. This is the function of vellum, the cloth that covers the chalice and the ciborium to be used in the celebration of the Eucharist. By removing the vellum, the priest indicates that now, in Christ, the mystery of God in us has become visible, reachable and tangible. He is among His people, to share Himself with them.
The veil removed, we partake of the glory of God. That glory which was revealed to the shepherds in Bethlehem, the glory that is seen by the saints in the book of Revelation. The Creator of the world is present and illuminates us with his spirit. His glory, his light becomes our light, and we become his light to the world.
Our response to that experience of glory is worship. Worship as the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays, and our own individual devotions whenever and wherever, and, after all, being immersed in Christ, we should consider all our life in its entirety as an act of worship.
The people of the Old Testament could not bear even the reflection of the glory of God in the shining face of Moses. They chose to keep this light a mystery, to cover it up and give it a place, but not too close. Too much, they said. And that was that.
God on his part did not force his people. He put a veil, a curtain between the most holy place in the Tabernacle and the rest of the worship space (Lev.16.2). No, not to protect himself from the people but the people from an accidental death by the glory of God. The result of this veiling was fear.
Mysterious places and things, processes we do not understand or cannot explain usually cause fear. This is how self-preservation works. It takes a very brave – or sometimes foolish – person to travel into the mysterious and uncover what is secret, speak of the unspeakable. Usually, those journeys bring much fruit to the community.
Here Jesus takes his disciples and goes on a journey. They climb a mountain together. And the tired and sleepy eyes of the disciples suddenly fly wide open. Their teacher, whom Peter has just a few verses ago (Lk. 9.18-20) pronounced to be the Messiah, now is unveiled. He appears in his shining glory as the God he is.
Peter wants to stay here, where all is finally unmystified, veil-less, obvious.
Let us build three tents here: one for Moses, one for Elijah, one for you, master. Because Peter does not know that the purpose of this unveiled meeting, this scrap of heavenly glory, is to discuss Jesus’ exodus from this world (Lk. 9.31). The transfiguration means that Jesus will die. That is the secret, openly spoken by Jesus (Lk. 9. 21-27) and as openly unbelieved by his disciples.
The three tents remain unbuilt. The voice in the cloud strikes fear in the disciples. This is my beloved son, obey him, it says (Lk. 9.35-36). The mystery is back, the journey continues. The fear commands silence.
The exodus of Christ from this world, his death on the cross, breaks the veil over the holy of holies (Mt. 27.51). Now God’s glory is revealed to all. Now the most holy place is everywhere and nowhere. On that cross, the last mystery is solved. God’s love for the world resolves as his son entering the darkness and pain of all the sinful creation. God’s sun sets. His battered body is wrapped in a veil to keep the death in and the living out.
And on the third day after that sunset, at dawn, we see the last of the veils, folded aside, in the empty grave.
And on that dawn we see Jesus unveiled again, coming in glory. His wounded hands ready to embrace those who would let him. He has finished his journey on earth, shown the example, and now returns to His Father.
He has conquered. Death, veils, mysteries, images, life, difficult people, systems, you name it. He has shown, in his own person that all things work together for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).
His victory takes away all the veils a believer may encounter. The believer, entering into Christ, acquires a new light and vision. They are in Truth, and they have the right to be truth to a very, very confused world.
There is one veil that is not mentioned in the Bible, the veil that belonged to Veronica, cloth she used to wipe the blood, sweat and tears off Jesus’ face as he passed her on his way to Calvary. This veil is said to have preserved the image of the face of the Son of God.
Veronica dared to approach the suffering God. She went outside the crowd, inside the cordon of foreign troopers, to offer comfort to someone she probably did not know so well, but cared for. Her name translates as vera icon, true image – someone who reveals our Saviour.
You see, we also can become, through the Spirit of God, true images of Him we love.
Then we’d be like the veil of Veronica, an imprint of God’s Son, shining forth with the light He bestows on us. Like Moses, we talk to Him in our prayers. Like the people of Israel, we follow His light. Like the congregation in Corinth, we are His letter of love, inscribed in hearts (2 Cor 3. 2-3).
The veil (or curtain) that covered the Holy of Holies, is broken and now all that was hidden and mystery, is right in front of our eyes. We are not called to mystify, but to reveal, to bring into the light the hidden treasures of our church fellowship: to do justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with our God as the liturgy (and probably Micah 6.8) says.
We, of here and now are called to be the open church, welcoming those who seek the face of God. We are called to go out and seek those whom God loves already, but who do not love God just yet. Having seen the glory of God, having experienced His beloved Son, we now can go down from the mountain, and heal the sick world. It is by His light in us that the others navigate through veils and mysteries to come to the source of all truth. Let us continue, with courage, in our journey to become truer images of Jesus till we see Him face to face.
The readings for March 3, 2019
Exodus 34:29-35 (NRSVA)
The Shining Face of Moses
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant[a] 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 Afterwards 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.
Psalm 99 (NRSVA)
Praise to God for His Holiness
1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
4 Mighty King,[a] lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
6 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.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (NRSVA)
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 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[a] was being set aside. 14 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. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 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.
Treasure in Clay Jars
4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise 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.
Luke 9:28-43 (NRSVA)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus[a] took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,[b] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[c] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;[d] listen to him!’ 36 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.