Tag: God’s Glory

We Have Seen His Glory – A Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday (2 Peter)

2 Peter 1:16-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
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                Epiphany begins with a star shining in the night sky pointing us to the child born in Bethlehem. It ends with this same Jesus, now an adult who is fully engaged in his ministry, standing on a mountain-top, his glory fully revealed and witnessed to by a voice from heaven. The day on which we celebrate this revealing of Christ’s majesty is called Transfiguration Sunday. While you will find a full description of this event in the reading for today in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.17:1-9), there is another witness to the event, that witness is found here in 2 Peter. The season of light is coming a close, with this brief revelation of Christ’s glory, but the witness continues on to this day.

                This passage bears witness to the moment of transfiguration. The author, whose identity is not known to us, tells us that what is being made known is not a “cleverly devised myth.” It is an event to which there were witnesses. Now, the author claims to be a witness to the event, but scholars suggest that this is a rather late document. We need to recognize the irony here of a message that opposes cleverly devised myths with eyewitness testimony given by an unknown, rather late in the game, author. Nevertheless, even if this wasn’t written by St. Peter, as claimed by the letter, it is likely rooted in a communal witness that goes back to the apostolic era. The reason for claiming apostolic authorship is to support the authoritative nature of the witness. The original readers likely knew this wasn’t written by Peter, but they accepted it as an authentic witness. For our purposes, it stands in line with the witness of the Gospels. In fact, it’s rather sparse in its details.

                Although no mention is made here of the transformation of Jesus’ appearance or the presence of Moses and Elijah (nor of James and John for that matter), what is referenced is the voice of God. It is God who bears witness to Jesus’ majesty, declaring: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The author reveals that he was present to witness this voice from heaven. Now, he shares it with others.

                The purpose of sharing this message of the Transfiguration is revealed in the words that follow. That has to do with the prophetic witness of Scripture. Be attentive to it, the author says. He compares it to a lamp shining in a dark place. That is a message that resonates during Epiphany. We’re told that the revelation of Christ’s glory and majesty on the mountain top gives credibility to the message of Scripture and their witness to it. While Protestants, and I count myself among them, have hailed the right of the individual to read and interpret Scripture for themselves, the author of 2 Peter isn’t quite as sanguine about this. The author writes that “you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (vs. 20). Instead, the prophecy of Scripture, the revelation of God, comes as men and women are moved by the Holy Spirit to speak for God.        

 

                While what we call the New Testament is in formation by the time 2 Peter is written, it’s still forming. Gospels and letters are floating around, but they’ve been organized into a whole that one would call Scripture. So, we’re likely talking here about what Christians call the Old Testament, most likely that testament was written in Greek, what is known as the Septuagint (LXX).

                Whatever is meant here by prophecy and Scripture, the author is clear that it can’t mean whatever we want it to mean. Contextually, the interpretation of prophecies was often a matter of conjecture. As Pheme Perkins notes, this was known to occur at places like Delphi. She writes that “Second Peter insists that prophetic words inspired by the Holy Spirit are not that sort of prophecy; they reflect God’s purposes, not human cleverness” [Feasting on the Word, p. 451].

                So, this reading reminds us that we should be attentive to the witness of Scripture, that it might be a lamp to light the way forward, until the morning dawns and the full light of God has been revealed to our hearts.

                The story of the Transfiguration suggests that for just one moment the full majesty of Jesus’ identity was revealed. Only a few people (Matthew names Peter, James, and John) got to see that revelation. Only they got to hear the divine witness to Jesus’ identity. We the readers of the Gospels and of this letter must take their word as being true. This witness is extended to Scripture, which isn’t open to just any interpretation but requires the movement of the Spirit. That is tricky because it’s easy to claim the Spirit’s lead. How do we discern when and how the Spirit is leading? It’s a question that we preachers ask all the time as we consider the message found in Scripture and seek to bring something of value to our congregations. We pray for the Spirit’s guidance. We also pray that the Spirit will speak in, through, under, or over our words (that’s something akin to consubstantiation, just applied to Scripture rather than the Eucharist).  

 

                As we move into Lent and journey toward Easter, may the lamp that 2 Peter speaks of light our way until morning dawns and we can see more fully the things of God.

                 
Image attribution: Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319. Transfiguration of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46150 [retrieved February 16, 2020]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

 

Reflecting God’s Glory — Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday (Exodus 34)

Exodus 34:29-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
29 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. 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 Afterward 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.
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                It is Transfiguration Sunday, which is a day that calls us to reflect on Jesus’ ascent to the top of the mountain, taking with him Peter, James, and John. When the group arrives on the mountain top, Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah, whom many assume represent the Law and the Prophets. As the conversation continues, Jesus begins to glow, the divine radiance shining forth. As they watch this scene unfold, Jesus’ companions are overwhelmed by what they see. You might say that they are in awe of what they see. Not knowing what else to do, they ask Jesus for permission to erect tents for the three figures. As they ask this question, Moses and Elijah disappear from the scene, leaving Jesus alone with his disciples. At that moment a voice from the heavens rings out declaring, much like at his baptism: ““This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk. 9:28-36).
                The first reading from the Scriptures takes us to Exodus 34. Here again we go to the mountain top, and when we do, we see another divine encounter. In this scene Moses has gone up to the top of Mount Sinai to speak with YHWH. This is the second time he has done this. When we pick up the story, Moses is descending the mountain, carrying with him the two tablets that define the covenant God desires to make with Israel.  This is the second set of tablets, since Moses broke the first set after discovering that Aaron and the people had created a golden calf while he was on the mountain speaking with God (Ex. 32). This is the second opportunity for Israel to make covenant with YHWH, which occurs after Moses intercedes with God (Ex. 33:12-23). Once again Moses spends forty days and forty nights on the mountain, neither eating nor drinking. Communion with God, apparently, was sufficient (Ex.34:27-28). Having been on the mountain for forty days and nights, it’s time for Moses to return to where Israel camped out in Sinai.
When he arrives with the tablets in hand, his face shone with the glory of God, only he did not know this. That is, until he realized that Aaron and Israel were afraid to approach him because his face shone so brightly. In time he was able to convince them to come and hear his words, words given to him by God on the mountain. When he was finished, he put a veil over his face, until his next visit with YHWH. The fact that his face reflected the glory of God’s presence was a sign to the people that God was with them, and that God was guiding them through the auspices of Moses. The moment of transfiguration described in the Gospels, is an unveiling of God’s presence in the person of Jesus. The three disciples were drawn into the divine presence and saw how Jesus radiated with that presence. As for Moses, he reflected the divine presence by his countenance. It was a bit off-putting to the people, who didn’t know what to make of it. Thus, because the radiance of his face was so great, he covered his face with a veil, so as not to overwhelm his fellow Israelites.
The reading from the epistle, which comes from 2 Corinthians, has a bit of a different take on the situation. Paul saw the veil as a means by which Moses hid the fact that the glow was fading with time. He saw this as symbolic of the inability of Israel to discern the identity of Jesus as its Messiah. Only in Christ, Paul believes, is the veil set aside so we can see the glory of God present in Jesus so that we might be transformed (2 Cor. 3:12-18). Paul and Luke have this Mosaic encounter in mind. We have to be careful here not to read this story in a supersessionist mode, so that this becomes a word about God’s rejection of Israel. Instead, may we read this as an invitation to perceive the glory of God present in Jesus, a glory that Moses encountered as well. He experienced that transformation that Paul spoke of, but as a human being, he like us, must continually return to God’s presence lest the glory that is God fade. It’s not a one-time occurrence. For Luke, the presence is found within Jesus, and it is revealed through a momentary unveiling. For us, like Moses, we must continually return to God’s presence so we might increase in our reflecting of God’s glory. As Paul reminds us, we may have veils over our faces, which not only hide the fact that the glory of our encounters with God are fading, but these veils may prevent us from seeing what is true and what is right. So, maybe what was designed to protect is now a hindrance.
                How should we read and respond to this story? In both the Exodus encounter with the Divine and the transfiguration of Jesus, we learn something about the central figure. Moses had been dealing with a rather recalcitrant community, that questioned his authority. Having this sign of his encounter with God reflected in his face reinforced his claim to leadership in the community. As for Jesus, the unveiling, together with the heavenly voice, confirmed in the three disciples that Jesus was one to be listened to, even if they didn’t share the news broadly. But there is also a sense here of wonder or awe at being in the presence of God, even if you must hide in the cleft of the rock (Ex 33:17-23).
                There are many times and places where we can gain a sense of God’s presence. Being in nature can create within us a sense of wonder or awe, and if we’re attentive we will recognize in nature a reflection of God’s creative presence. Although our experiences of worship don’t always create within us a sense of awe at the presence of God, there are times when such occurs. We might even glow with the love and glory of God reflecting off our faces, while we sing something like “Shine Jesus Shine.”

Picture Attribution: St. Vitale – Moses Receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=32149 [retrieved February 25, 2019]. Original source: Images donated by Patout Burns, Vanderbilt University.