This Sunday marks the end of the season after the Epiphany, with its themes of light and revelation. Though not the feast of the Transfiguration itself, we always hear the story of the Transfiguration on this Sunday. If you don't know, the Transfiguration is an event told by the Gospels wherein some of Jesus' students accompanied him up a mountain, and there his glory was revealed in a new way, with brightness, light, and dazzling clothing, and Moses and Elijah appeared with him there.
I wonder about the history of this story. Clearly Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and the early Church is claiming that Jesus consummates all of the Law and the Prophets. The early Church also claims that Jesus is more than them, as they represent still a veil over the revelation of God. In Jesus, the Church claims, there is no veil. The fullness of God is revealed in the face of Jesus. As we will hear this Sunday from Paul:
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 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 was being set aside. 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. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one 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 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. Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice 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.
I'm struck by Paul's words here. At first, I thought they read in a supersessionist sort of way. Supersessionism the idea that the New Covenant in Jesus supercedes, or replaces, the Old Covenant, as in the Mosaic covenant. But perhaps there is more going on here from Paul. Is it actually a criticism of the Mosaic covenant that he writes? I'm struck by the word "boldness." "We act with great boldness," Paul writes, by no longer living with a veil over our face. What then is the veil? It is not a literal veil, but a veil over the mind.
I think it is even more than a mental veil, but a veil over action that Paul is asserting. He speaks not of the glory of Jesus revealed in such a way as the on the mountain at the Transfiguration, but the glory of Jesus revealed in his death and resurrection. In the Cross Paul sees the full revelation of God's glory in Jesus. That is the ministry we are engaged in by God's mercy, the ministry of the cross of Jesus, the activity of the love of Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus given to us. The Spirit of Jesus given to us is the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen one, and if we are being transformed into his image, it is that image we are being transformed into.
The question that this Sunday begs of us is not how we can better reflect the shining light of the mountaintop, but how we can engage in the same ministry as our Lord Jesus. At the end of this Sunday's Gospel lesson, we see Jesus and his students come down from the mountain. The Gospel of Luke ties this story directly to the mountain story, saying,
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
Jesus' students were unable to deliver this boy from his oppression by this evil spirit. But Jesus brings him freedom, peace, and healing. The greatness of God was revealed to the masses, not by transfiguration on the mountaintop, but by God's delivering, freeing ministry on the ground.
So is the revelation of Jesus on the mountain or in his ministry? It is somehow both, they are inextricably linked. The summation of the Law and the Prophets is the man Jesus. In his human face we see God. In the healing and freedom he offers we see God's greatness. In his sacrificial love we understand the meaning of Creation. In his death on the Cross we see God unveiled to us. In his Resurrection we find the life of the New Creation, the end of violence, oppression, war, suffering, disease, heartache, sin, and death.
The same Spirit in Jesus is the Spirit in us, transforming us to his likeness from glory to glory. If we are to live a life transformed by that Spirit, it is to obey him, to follow him, and to be like him. Can we give the kind of ministry we see in that story above? Can we act in boldness, unveiled, proclaiming freedom to those oppressed, rebuking evil spirits among us, offering peace and reconciliation to a hurting, suffering world? Can we call the world to repentance and to God's nearing kingdom as Jesus did? Those are the questions as we enter into Lent, a time for accountability, repentance, and a remembrance of our mortality and utter dependence on God. Let us do so unveiled, proclaiming his glory to the world in our cruciform lives.