A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Transfiguration ~ Exodus 24:12-18; 34:28-35
A religious movement leader and a couple of their key followers withdraw from the regular distractions and busyness of the day-to-day world and go up a mountainside (or a hillside) to get away from it all and focus on opening themselves to an experience of the Presence of God, and to pray. While in that set apart and quiet space the leader undergoes such a profound spiritual experience that their physical appearance seems altered and transformed – transfigured even – in a word, they are aglow – and a sparkling cloud of spiritual energy and Presence envelops them. The experience causes some confusion for their followers, but mostly they’re simply awestruck. Then the group returns to the wider community and go on to lead in deeper and more inspired ways.
In the New Testament we call this story ‘the Transfiguration’ – and it can be found in Mark 9, Matthew 17, and Luke 9 – all three of the gospels that try to tell the story of Jesus in a linear kind of way (John’s gospel uses a very different approach).
In the Hebrew Scriptures we call this story ‘just another day up the mountain’ for Moses! Well, another 40 days to be more accurate! Moses must’ve loved it up on the mountain because it seemed like he was up there all the time. And when he went it wasn’t just for quick getaway like Jesus did. No, Moses gets 40 days and nights at a shot. What does he do all that time?
Well, in Exodus 24 he goes up the mountain and experiences God’s Presence.
And then it takes all of chapters 25, 26, and 27 for him to receive the incredibly detailed instructions for creating the tabernacle (the tent of meeting, their mobile worship space).
Then chapter 28 is all about the vestments (the clothing) that the priests should wear (clergy clothes have been a thing for a looooong time!), then chapter 29 is all about consecrating the priests, chapter 30 is about the altar, and the goblets, and the incense, and all the other things in the tabernacle, and then finally, after 40 days (a number signifying great transformation), Moses gets the famed tablets with God’s laws written on them in Exodus 31:18.
And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he got them and goes back down the mountain he discovers that the people have been very naughty while he’s been gone, crafting giant golden calves and all, and in Exodus 32 Moses smashes the tablets in a rage.
Chapter 33 sees Moses spending most of his time in that tent with what’s described as a cloud (meaning God’s Presence) engulfing the tent while he’s in it, and he has some deep conversations with God.
Then in chapter 34 Moses finds himself back on the mountain and God runs him off another copy of the tablets. Again, he’s there for a while.
Exodus 34:28-30 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights (which is a number symbolizing…?? – yes, transformation!); he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
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.
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.
This is the part that I want us to ponder for a while.
As a result of his personal experience with the Presence of God, Jesus’ clothes were transfigured into a dazzling white and light radiated from every pore of his body.
As a result of his personal experience with the Presence of God, Moses’s face shone so vividly that people asked him to wear a veil.
When one truly encounters God – it leaves a mark!
And that’s the simple thing I invite you to ponder upon hearing these stories of Jesus and Moses.
This church isn’t exactly a mountaintop, but one of the main purposes of gathering as a community of faith in a sanctuary like this is that we know that when we do the Presence of God – which is always present, everywhere and always – is uniquely present here – amplified, focused, concentrated, visceral.
And my question is – do you realize that when you leave this place people can tell just by looking at you that you’ve experienced something holy?
It’s written all over your faces.
It’s in your smile.
It’s in the gleam in your eye.
It’s in the compassion that you display.
It’s in the softness and kindness you convey.
It’s in the peace you exude.
I think we dramatically undervalue, and therefore undersell, the beauty and power and awesomeness that being together in this place provides for us.
Again, it’s written all over your faces – for all to see – and they do!
I mean, just look at one another. Can you see it?
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked to wear a veil because you’re so aglow with the Spirit of God…(anyone?) but that doesn’t mean people don’t notice.
And so should you!
Encounters with the Presence of God transform a person – if we’ll let them.
Jesus did. Moses did.
You are right now! (I hope.)
It may not be on an actual mountain, and your clothes may not actually sparkle with light, and you may not be given a couple of stone tablets with writing on them – but that doesn’t mean you’re not encountering God’s Presence right now.
I invite you to close your eyes, and take a deep breath.
Picture yourself on a mountainside. It’s quiet. It’s serene. It’s holy!
Sense the dazzling cloud rolling in like a thick, holy fog – utterly engulfing and enfolding you.
Breathe in deeply again.
Let that Spirit enter into your deepest parts, and fill you, and energize you, and light you up from the inside out.
Such an encounter can happen anytime and anywhere you desire it. All you need to do is to take a quiet moment and breathe.
But be prepared.
It’ll change you.
It’ll make a difference.
It did for Moses. It did for Jesus.
And it could happen for you.
And if you can drop your guard and open yourself to the encounter then one thing is for sure…
That’ll leave a mark!
You might want to have a veil handy!