O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Read without reference to Saint’s commentary on this passage in our epistle for today (see below), the afterglow on Moses’ face and the veil which he dons seem signs of the reverence which God expects of those who worship him.
Yet in 2nd Corinthians, Saint turns the Exodus account into an indictment of the Israelites for thinking they do not have the freedom to enter God’s presence -- the freedom which Saint insists that God has given to us as Christians.
Rejoice that Scripture in dialogue with Scripture does not support a literal or exact understanding of itself. Scripture invites us to be critical of Scripture. Saint expects us to read analytically and to interpret Hebrew scriptures (the only ones to which he had access) boldly in the light of God’s revelation in Christ.
Jews in all ages have read their own holy books in a critical way. Through Midrash (interpretation of interpretation of interpretation….) they respect the texts by taking them seriously.
Exodus insists that Moses did not actually see God. The chapter just before this one, Exodus 33:30, states “‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’" Apparently just being in the presence of God creates the after-glow. The effect seems that of an apparition, much as the Gospel reading today reveals an apparition of Moses and Elijah when Jesus is transfigured.
In the 21st century, Christians generally expect such iconography to be revealed in stained glass, marble statuary, or oil painted onto canvas. If you tell someone at work in the secular world that you saw Jesus last night, and if on questioning you insist this was a literal appearance, you may be given medical leave for psychological testing.
Yet your first amendment rights will reduce such risks when the bishop or your rector calls on you and others in the congregation to bid the spirit of God to fill the worship space, especially if you invoke the spirit in Latin. “Venite spiritus sanctus”
Psalm 99 portrays God as exalted and regal. The psalmist tells us to tremble. Apparently the psalmist thinks that God likes it when “fall down before his footstool.” This expectation is congruent with Moses’ behavior. He wears a veil to hide the afterglow when he has been in God’s presence -- which is apparently too big an experience for the multitude to bear.
The psalmist’s view is incongruent with Jesus, in whom God is manifested as friend, collaborator, lover.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
“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….”
President Barack Obama named his book The Audacity of Hope.
Dare Jesus assure a place in heaven to a thief on the next cross who did no more nor less than show sympathy for Jesus?
Dare lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered claim a space at Jesus’ heavenly banquet?
Are the poor closer to the heart of God than we rich?
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
I like the way the text for today juxtaposes the exalted and the mundane, the transfiguration and a medical emergency. In the latter, Jesus casts the demon out of the child, but he is a fuss-budget towards his disciples who had tried and failed in a similar effort.
Luke does not try to connect the healing with the transfiguration. Nor does Luke privilege the transfiguration narrative as somehow more exalted. In both stories the disciples come out looking less than stellar. They miss the point of the transfiguration and want to stay forever transfixed, in positions of privilege next to Jesus, in a heavenly mutual admiration society.
Jesus squelches that expectation. “Jesus is Lord” -- the primary reduction of the faith in the first century immediately requires “Jesus is servant”; and Jesus expects his disciples to be servants, not exalted potentates.
In my parish on Maundy Thursday the priest washes just one foot each of twelve volunteers while the rest of us watch this photo-op for Jesus.
What might our lives look like if daily we lived as if washing both feet of all willing persons around us?
W. H. Auden wrote:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth
there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood
-- from “Musée des Beaux Arts”
In the painting, the children don’t even notice Icarus falling from the sky.
Taking my cue from Auden, I wrote:
Hollywood rarely gets it right.
Off-screen, at the fancy wedding,
the organ's tremolo rarely muffles
the carpentry down the street.
Neither rolling drums nor a funeral's
21-gun salute ever fully mutes
the interstate a block away.
Nuptial tin cans inevitably clatter
through another's pain-filled drowse.
One's cortege irreverently squeaks
past some solemn wedding party.
Fiction-mongers shut their ears
Any cacophony, they must control.
Motorists rarely stop for funerals anymore,
even in small towns.
Sunday School pregnant virgins
ride to Jerusalem on
"Look, another dirty camel!"
-- Louie Crew
Has appeared, each time under my my pseudonym Li Min Hua:
New Letters 54.1 (1987): 103.
Pierian Springs 2.4 (July 2003).
Little Magazine 22.2 The Hypertext Mechanic in both text and audio.
No two people see any one scene identically. Nor are any two experiences of a scene equal.
I studiously avoid knowing much about sports. They don’t interest me. I cannot watch a football game on tv in the same way a friend who was a tackle in high school forty years watches it, even though we sit in front of the same large flat monitor eating the same snacks.
I love choral music, but frankly I do not like to listen to the comments of friends who are professional musicians when they talk about a choral concert that we have just attended before going out to dinner. They hear mistakes that I did not hear; they hear accomplishments that I cannot even understand.
Our experiences are radically shaped by who we are and how we have developed ears to hear and eyes to see. We are not the same; we are not equal.
While I was living in Hong Kong, 1983-87, I became friends with a Jesuit named Wilfred Chan. We met as members of the same computer users group. It turned out that he had also been part of a group who heard me speak to Hong Kong clergy on gay issues at the invitation of Dean Paul Clasper, at St. John’s Cathedral.
Fr. Chan and I frequently met for dinner. I would show up at a designated spot on the subway, and he would take me to a little known but treasured neighborhood restaurant nearby riding on the back of his motor scooter. Or sometimes we would use the subway together.
Fr. Chan never saw the same crowd that I did. He moved through all spaces noticing and responding to human crisis as naturally as an athlete tosses a ball. It was impossible for anyone in crisis to interrupt him, because he had already put the crisis at the center of his attention before the needy person spotted us. And Fr. Chan rarely wore a clerical collar.
Nor did Fr. Chan reduce in any way his participation in our on-going spirited conversation, usually about the latest computer software.
My friend Petero Sabune, a native Ugandan, is much the same way. While he was dean of Newark’s Episcopal cathedral we lived only three blocks from each other in the same neighborhood. When we served as deputies together to the 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia, Dean Sabune offered me a ride home to Newark. It took us three times the normal trip home. He preferred to avoid the interstate. Whenever he saw a car parked on the roadside with the hood or trunk open, he stopped and offered to take the driver to a nearby gas station or repair shop. He drove that way in Uganda. He drives that way in the United States. He manifests no frustration at having to stop. Indeed, he does not have to. He manifests great joy in being able to offer help.
Imagine the surprise and sometimes the fear of many stalled by the road when they see a very black man stop and come toward them!
Wilfred and Petero do not glow in the dark the way Moses did. They don’t need to wear veils to protect us from their reality. They do manifest that they have been with Jesus; and if I do not myself wear a veil, they include me in their reality.
I watched closely as they responded to the needs of others only years later to realize that they were doing the same for me. It was no accident that they sought me out as a friend. They spotted my need before I had named it to myself. And never were they patronizing about doing so. They always enjoyed my company.
“Grant that I beholding by faith the light of Wilfred’s and Petero’s countenance, may be strengthened to bear my cross, and be changed, as they have been, into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory.”