Fearing and glowing is what Transfiguration Sunday is about. Tomorrow, 27 February 2022, is Transfiguration Sunday. On this day, we remember the time Jesus went up a mountain and was “transfigured.”
The lectionary readings for Transfiguration Sunday this year are
Psalm 99 (a call to exalt the Lord for his holiness and his commitment to justice and equality for all).
Exodus 34:29-35 (the glowing of Moses face after he meets with God and receives the ten commandments).
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (the Apostle Paul’s interpretation of the glowing of Moses face).
Luke 9:28-36 (Luke’s account of the ‘glowing’ of Jesus on the mountain, his conversation with Moses and Elijah, and the commendation and command of God about Jesus).
The passages are clearly connected by the holiness or “wholly otherness” of God, his concern and plans for mankind.
In this article, I’ll focus on the glowing of Moses face after his second trip up the mountain to meet God. I’ll explain why I think fearing and glowing is what Transfiguration Sunday is about.
Why on the mountain?
Because of the holiness, “wholly otherness,” or separation of God from us. He’s the creator; we, the created. He made us to follow the purposes of His heart. Because of sin, we follow our own purposes. But He longs for us to return to His ways. He constantly tells us so and shows us how. Prolonged reflection on ‘distance’ must precede meetings with God.
In a class on nuclear radiation, my lecturer told us about clocks with hands that glowed because they were painted with radioactive paint. Then he asked if anyone was from the city of Aberdeen. After some raised their hands, he said “notice how their faces glow.” (It was a joke; he made it up. Aberdeen is a city built on rocks rich in radium, so it has higher background radioactivity than the national average.) His point was that if you’re exposed to radioactivity, you’ll become radioactive, and people will know. Similarly, if you’re exposed to God, people will know.
Why no glow the first time?
The first time Moses went to receive the Ten Commandments is described in Exodus 24. We are told the “glory of the LORD,” which was “like a devouring fire,” (verse 17) covered Mount Sinai (verse 15) and was seen by all the people. We are told Moses entered the cloud, went up the mountain and stayed there forty days and nights (verse 18). The next seven chapters tell us that God gave him instructions about the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the Offerings, priestly garments, and lots more. And then, in chapter 32, he comes down. But he wasn’t glowing. He was glowering. He was in a fury. He had on the angry face of God.
Why did Moses’ glower?
Exodus 32 records one of the saddest events in the life of the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When their leader Moses, the one who, under God, had led them out of Egypt, was away for 40 days, they turned to idolatry. They made a god after their own design. They contributed their wealth and made a golden calf. They treated that object as if it had power and deserved credit for the work of God. It was the great apostasy. It called forth the anger of God – who told Moses about it – and the fury of Moses. Moses responded by pleading with God and by punishing the wrongdoers.
Moses’ cleft of the rock experience
Often, when our pastors pronounce the benediction upon us, we hear the words “the Lord make his face shine upon you.” We should be in a state of stunned, trembling silence when we hear this. Why? Because of how God protected Moses before He showed Himself to him. We read this in Exodus 33:(19-23). Moses pleads for God both to continue with and to spare the Israelites. God relents and agrees. Moses asks for a sign. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, covers him, shows him all His goodness (glory), and promises to be gracious and merciful. That was the pre-Christ, pre-resurrection, Old Covenant faith – very different from the New, post-resurrection faith we now have: we not only safely mouth God’s name, we call Him Father!
The godly leader
Moses face shone. Shone so brightly that he had to wear a mask to avoid blinding people who approached him. It was a period when the people needed to be clear who the anointed leader was, a leader who could say what God approved and didn’t approve. But the glow faded. Because Moses, by the godly leadership he exercised, developed a new kind of glow – the glow of all who’ve met God, walk with Him and radiate Him.
Fearing and glowing is what Transfiguration Sunday is about. Tomorrow, I’ll speak on all four texts. And relate them to current events.
You may like to read also Should we wear helmets during church services in which I introduce an insight from the American writer, Annie Dillard.