There are things in the bible I just don’t get. That raise all sorts of questions for me. Like, what’s the big deal with Moses’
shining face? Why did he have to wear a veil? And what kind of a veil was it anyway? Did he have to borrow his wife’s—as women in some cultures wear veils. Was Moses the Bible’s first transvestite? Or did they make something special for him like a man-purse, but a man-veil? Or did he just pull his robe over his head? How did he see where he was walking? How bright was he? It had to be more than just shimmer or afterglow? Was he like spotlight, a high-beam, as bright or brighter than the shining sun—so that when Aaron and the people looked at him, they saw those you know spots in their vision? Maybe it’s just me, but those are some of questions that swirl around in my head. Whatever it was Moses’ veil was meant to cover up that Godly afterglow Radiating from his face. His veil was meant to save the people’s mere mortal eyes from the divine dazzle.
I wish I could say the same thing about the robes I’ve worn. Like the robe I wore in college when I sang in the Wittenberg Choir. These were not the height of fashion, these floor length wide red robes with a white stole made of 100% polyester.
We wore these robes every night on during our Spring break which we spent singing our way through Lutheran churches in the midwest, the south, and even one year in Florida, and unlike our wonderful Village building here, as you well know most of those old Lutheran buildings, even I’m sad to report in the South–are definitely not air conditioned.
So as it happened on one particularly warm, no hot evening, as we were standing there with the lights on, singing one sacred song after another, one of my fellow alto’s started to feel a bit woozy. During the applause between songs I started walking her down a side aisle. She made it to the door, and down she went–fainting in the narthex and lobby. We got her to the floor, somebody started fanning her, and a helpful older member of the congregation/audience, said, “take that robe off”.
“No, no don’t.” I said quickly.
Because under her robe well there was nothin, no clothing, nothin but skin. You see, the Wittenberg choir had this curious tradition each year of having one night declared “Naked Night”, when we singers would wear nothing under our robes, and someone would put a slip of paper in Dr. Busarow’ (our director)’s music, saying something profound like, “there are 55 naked bodies in front of you.” That night was Naked Night.
So unzipping her robe would not just cool her off, but reveal–let’s just say way too much about this young woman.
Robes, albs, veils are there to cover up and conceal, save us from glimpsing, or getting too much exposure, or maybe from seeing what’s really there. And in the church, we haven’t wanted that. We haven’t wanted to be distracted from our devotions, our holy reverie.
But then along comes Jesus and our story for today when Peter, James, John, and us (by way of the gospel writer Luke) on the mountaintop see Jesus’ appearance changed — transfigured—his face, body, clothing shinning, glowing. His disciples transfixed by the divine glory and hearing God’s command to “Listen”. It is fabulous. Finally they can see Jesus for who he is; no more guessing, no more wondering—the veil of the mundane is replaced to reveal Jesus eternal and ethereal self. We shouldn’t berate and criticize Peter for his comment about building something up there on the mountain for Moses, Elijah, and for Peter. Because now we are getting to see who Jesus really is, in his glory, and isn’t it just heavenly.
But remember what comes next?
The bible doesn’t give us the details, but Jesus is transfigured again, transformed back. Does all the earthy dust and dirt float back up to cover him again—onto his not so bright robe and cloak, to coat his skin his sandaled feet, his pores, his wrinkles and his beard. I wonder if Peter, James, and John, if we can ask is this normal for Jesus? Which is he truly? What is he deep down inside himself? But they don’t, they don’t say a word. They come down the mountain.
Just the very next day, after being told by the divine loudspeaker–MC to listen to him, what does Jesus say?
let’s out these words “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” These are not the words of a genteel, and soft spoken, meek and humble Holy man. These words display Jesus’ frustration, exasperation, exhaustion, impatience.
I don’t know about you, but if I’d been there I’d be like Jesus, just choose who are you? Which are you? We want our Jesus to be good guy of godly glory who happily heals our every woe. Who is just so spiritual, he sneezes God’s blessings—with his emotions under control and his spirit at peace—any of our mortal, human nature, tendencies, and failings well hidden, sublimated, and under control. But that’s not the Jesus we see, the Jesus we get, the real Jesus is both the one of Godly glory on the mountaintop and the guy who just mouthed off. With Jesus, we can not cover up or try to ignore the parts we don’t like.
That’s what we like to do, we like to cover up those things that confuse us, that do not fall neatly into one category or another. That’s why some in our country have such a hard time with trans people, with strong women, with powerful black young men, with sensitive you men. Our scripture for today shows us that God’s not afraid of ambiguity. It is ok to explore who we are, to walk a journey where one day we are one way and the next another. With God there is no hiding, there is no covering up. Jesus allows us to reveal and revel in God’s presence God’s love–which isn’t always glorious, but sometimes is dark, dirty, and even bloody and terrifying and horrifying as execution on the cross. Real faith isn’t forced to choose. Today God pulls the veil away between holy and mundane, between divine and dirt, confession and forgiveness, between bread and body it’s all there mixed together for us to taste, for us to hear, for us to see. God in the flesh with all our ugliness, In all our beauty, with our sin, brokenness and death–Jesus lives a real gory and glorious life for us, for all people. God loves us where we are on our journey, no need to hide, to cover up–no exceptions, no exclusions. Amen