February 7, 2016

Last Epiphany

Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3: 12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The other day I was visiting someone in a hospital. As I customarily do on such visits, I brought with me a communion kit. After a visit with this person, they indicated that they would like to receive communion, and so I opened the kit and began unpacking its contents, setting up a small altar upon one of those rolling hospital carts.  

The items inside a communion kit are intentionally small – the paten upon which the bread is placed is smaller than a saucer, and the chalice into which the wine is poured is several inches tall. I confess that in the presence of such small dishes I sometimes feel as if I am playing with a child’s tea set.  

The time came for us to say the Lord’s prayer together, and as we prayed those words together, I began to hear another voice join us. The voice came from across the room, from the other side of a curtain which separated one patient from another.  On the other side of that curtain was another patient, their voice joined with ours to the final “amen.”  

Although the room were in was an ordinary hospital room, I felt I was elsewhere – drawn closely into the warm embrace of God who joins friend and stranger together. As I reflect back on that experience, I now feel regret that I did not ask the person on the other side if we could pull back the curtain, and invite him to share in our communion together. So conditioned am I to respect patient anonymity that I neglected to even consider this a possibility. I will think differently in the future.  

Nevertheless, it did feel like a holy moment to me. It felt like being on top of a mountain.  

The Bible is full of these moments, telling us again and again the stories of people who encountered the holy and sacred in mystical and powerful moments. We hear this morning about one such person – Moses – who found his way to the top of a mountain and there encountered the terrifying direct presence of God that profoundly changed his countenance. The Bible says “the skin of his face was shining.”  People were afraid to approach Moses because they believed that the only outcome of a person’s direct encounter with the majesterial presence of God, was death. No one could see God and live, they believed. Except Moses did. When Moses realized the source of the people’s fear, he covered his face with a veil, and like that curtain in the hospital room, the veil Moses wore had the unfortunate result of separating him from his community.  Moses had seen God, and the outcome of that moment, holy though it was, was a veil, a curtain, that isolated him from the community he no doubt loved.      

Centuries later the Apostle Paul wrote about the problem this veil of Moses presents. The point Paul makes in 2 Corinthians about the veil is that Jesus removes it. That was the point of Jesus’ life, to remove disconnection, to deal end separation between people and their God. That’s what Jesus’ whole life was about. There is no need for a curtain or veil. God is amongst and we are invited to look directly into God and our countenance will shine as a result.  And that countenance, our bright shining faces that have seen the living God never need to be covered.

The very real point of our unity with God, a kind of unity that implies no separation, no curtain, no veil, is the heart of the Gospel we hear this morning. In the Gospel, Jesus takes Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain and atop the mountain and there the entire countenance of Jesus changes. Reminiscent of the shining of Moses’ face this change in Jesus’ appearance indicates a holy moment, a moment of transcendence. Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus, in a way I imagine Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker do at the end of Return of the Jedi.  

The shift in the story of Jesus on the mountain from the earlier story of Moses is simple: Jesus upon the mountain is God upon the mountain, a God to whom all can look and for whom all are changed.  

Because a part of God is within each of us, and when we look at each other, I believe we are gazing at a part of God. If this is true, then when we look at each other, the countenance of our faces changes, because in seeing God in another person, we realize we are not strangers, but friends. The person in line standing in front of you at the grocery store? That’s God. The person who cuts you off on the freeway, that irritates you to no end?  Perhaps that is God, too. The person in your family you wouldn’t ever want to have a conversation with but you have to because you are family, and you see each other at family gathering, and you disagree with them completely about politics, religion? That’s God. And the same God calls us to cast off our veils, to pull back the curtains that divide us and really look into the face of another, because God is as close to you as the person sitting next to you now. AMEN.