While visiting the Regina Science Centre several years ago I noticed a particularly interesting display. I’m sure you could find it in many such science centres. It consists of a small table, two stools, a piece of smoky glass and a series of lights that can be brightened or dimmed. The object is to have two people sit on opposite sides and look in the glass. With the lights on full all you can see is your own refection. By careful playing with the lights, however, you can begin to see the other persons face through the glass at the same time as your own reflection. Do it just right and you can blend the two faces, yours and your partners’ together in an amusing yet eerie way!
This charm of this scientific display is the the way it illustrates the meaning of the transfiguration in our own lives, right there before your eyes. There is the face that was, the face that is revealed and the two transfigured into the face that is in the melding of the two. This is, in a way, what Paul is talking about in the Epistle lesson for today. A likeness that is veiled, a likeness revealed, and a transfiguring of the two together into a likeness that we by the Spirit in Christ are becoming.
The likeness that is veiled, according to Paul, is none other than the Old Covenant between God and Man. A covenant based upon the fulfilling of the Law. A covenant given through the prophet Moses at Mt. Sinai. (13-15) …Moses, … put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains un-lifted,Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds;”
In Exodus 34 we are told that when Moses had finished meeting face to face with God in the tent of Meeting, the glory of God radiated and reflected from his face for a time afterwards. The people asked him to wear a veil over his face for not only was that glory too terrible to look upon, but even more terrifying and unsettling was the way that it disappeared. If that reflected glory was only temporary, then was God’s relationship with them likewise fading? NO! God is always faithful. Was there something incomplete in their covenant? The answer to that is of course – YES! The people couldn’t bear to think of their covenant of the Law being replaced by something else yet to come. So the fading of the glory was too painful to see or to think of.
As good as God’s covenant with His people at Sinai was, it was never meant to be the end but just the beginning. It was a trust meant to guide and keep and protect God’s people, but only until the Messiah would come. The Law of God cannot serve as the end-all or be-all of man’s relationship with God. You see, a relationship with God based only upon the law and the sacrifices it demands of us will lead to calloused hearts. Just look to the history of the Israelites. If you must constantly strive to live up to God’s expectations, to earn His love, then you must become very adept at tampering with His Word. You cannot take it literally, because what it asks is impossible. You must learn to make the law manageable, the commandments do-able.
You must set the bar of self-righteousness very low indeed. The Pharisees were masters of tweaking God’s laws in this way, but so are many Christians even today. Even if family commitments come up, as long as you had intended to go to church it counts. If work or sports take you out of town every once in a while, then it doesn’t count against you, because it’s not the norm. And every one feels sick, or blue or just plain tired once in a while, indeed you have to expect it. So you see, you can be a regular church goer, without actually ever really going to church!
A relationship with God based only upon the law and the sacrifices it demands of us will lead to losing heart, when faced with the eventual truth that you really aren’t as good as you need to be and that you never could live up to God’s standard. Or worse yet, when confronted by the consequences that veil all life in a sinful and broken world. Sickness, injury, death, loss or worse! At such times, the veil of a relationship based upon the Law, cannot allow you to see anything but an angry, vengeful, or punishing God, and our fast fading hope before such a God.
But here then, Paul sheds some light upon our veiled countenances. And in this light a glorious likeness is revealed. The New Covenant between Man and God. A covenant lived out under the Gospel of Christ! (16-18) but when a man 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 we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit
When we stop looking to the Law to make things right with God, and look instead to Christ, then the veil of calloused hearts and broken hearts is lifted and we truly begin to see God clearly for the first time. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant of the Law perfectly. He came to put an end to sin death and devil – to any doubts or fears we might have over our relationship with the Father. For in Christ, the very same one the Old Covenant of the Law pointed forward to, our relationship with God is now based upon not the Law which we cannot live up to but Forgiveness given freely in Jesus’ life death and resurrection. Our hope lies now, not in the sacrifices we bring before God, but in God’s Sacraments … His ever-present gifts to us! In the gifts of the Scriptures, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, Christ dwells in our midst. Christ comes into our lives. Indeed, Christ is in us changing us from glory unto glory!
And when the likeness of Christ is revealed in our lives, and the veil of sin, death and the devil are lifted. When the Gospel becomes our motivation, and the Law becomes our guide for the giving God all thanks and praise … there we begin to see a merging of what once was, with that which has been revealed. There we become something more than we were, more than we ever dared to dream. (12) “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” St. Paul says! And again: (4:1-2) “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
It is a profound truth born out in each of our readings from Scripture today. God is in the habit of transfiguring the people of this world into glorious citizens of His heavenly Kingdom. Elisha, by the gift of the vision, was emboldened to take up the mantle of Elijah, Peter and the disciples, in remembering Christ’s own transfiguration before them would themselves later be transfigured from scared and reluctant fishermen, to world changing preachers and teachers of the Gospel. And God is doing the same for each of you. Through your calling in Baptism, to your forgiveness in the Gospel, to the strengthening of your faith in the Lord’s Supper God is even now transfiguring your life into something that looks like his. He is making you bold to live in the promise of your Baptism and proclaim God’s Word, to a world trapped under a veil of delusions, doubts, and despair.
May God continue to lift the veil from your eyes that you may daily give thanks as Christ in you leads your life from one glory to another, and all for the glory of His name.