March 3, 2019 – Last Epiphany, Year C
Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9: 28-36
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
It used to be that, at many weddings, the bride would wear a veil. She would process in with the veil covering her face and her face would remain covered until it was time for the couple to exchange their vows. Then the groom would take the veil and slip it over the bride’s head and then they would proceed with the vows and, later, the kiss of peace. You can start a wedding wearing a veil but you can’t get to the good part until the veil is removed.
Our lessons today speak of veils. Moses, after he had his famous meeting with God on the holy mountain, had to put on a veil when he spoke to the people because the presence of God had caused his face to shine in such a way that it was blinding to the people he was addressing. So, when Moses went back and forth to the mountain he took his veil off to talk with God and put his veil on to talk with the people.
Paul, as he addresses the Corinthians, references that veil and uses that image to speak of the difference between Moses and the Christ. Moses, Paul says in effect, is rather like a veil over the face of God while Christ unveils the face of God so that we may see it more clearly. The law that Moses represents gives us a glimpse of who God is and what God wants with us but it doesn’t show us the full beauty and power of God. Christ Jesus is God fully revealed, unveiled for us so that we might exchange vows, so that we might share the kiss of peace, so that we might enter into a lifelong covenant with God where we can be loved into being who we were created to be.
The law gives us a glimpse of God but veils God in a way. Glimpses are important. They prepare us to see, help us to get started. But glimpses are limited. Christ Jesus shows us the fullness of who God is and who we can be as we are loved by God.
Sometimes we settle for the veil. Sometimes we think that’s as close as we can get to God. God wants much more than that. God wants the face-to-face. God wants the exchange of vows, the kiss of peace, the covenant with us, where we can be loved into who we are meant to be.
Sometimes we attach ourselves to the veil instead of the face of God. Frankly that’s easier. Intimacy with just a human being is mighty hard. Intimacy with God is downright terrifying. It causes us to change and grow, it leads us to take tremendous risks, it takes all illusions of control and throws them aside, it makes us more generous than we’re comfortable being, it causes us to live for someone other than ourselves. When we focus on the veil, we can get by with just the form. Living into the substance is more challenging. But of course it is more life-giving. The substance is what our heart truly desires. But living with God face-to-face takes a little more work than living with the veil. With the veil, God is drawing us into something more complete. But, for the life-giving relationship with God to evolve, we’ve got to allow ourselves to get past the veil.
The law – all the rules, our thoughts of how things are supposed to be, our sense of right and wrong according to our values, our means of determining who is in and who is out – the law, Paul reminds us, can keep us from experiencing the very presence of God. It can keep us from revealing that presence to others. The law was given to help us see that we cannot keep the law and we need God’s saving grace in our lives. But we settled for making life a competitive event where we basically left God out of the picture and settled for trying to look better than others.
How do you worship form over substance? Maybe the literal words of scripture keep you from seeing the spirit behind the words. Maybe the form of worship that we do here or your attachment to this physical space is really more important to you than a relationship with God. Maybe the gifts you have received in life are more important to you than the giver who has provided those gifts. May you settle for impressing others instead of being loved. We’ve all got our own veils to deal with.
Lent can be a time for us to discover the veils between us and God and a season where we can let those veils be lifted. The Church provides time-tested ways of engaging the love of Christ during Lent. First of all, we can show up and pay attention. Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday. We need to be in church. Every Sunday and Wednesday something life-giving will be offered. There is Eucharist on Tuesday and Thursday too, well worth attending. There are daily practices: reading scripture, reading our meditation booklet or another one, sitting quietly for 20 minutes, keeping a journal, moving more and eating and drinking less, writing a thank-you note every day, spending 15 minutes each day throwing things away that are cluttering your life. Many things qualify as a valid Lenten discipline. One reason we are encouraged to take up such actions is that they provide us an aisle in which we can examine the veils which separate us from God. Lent is nice long aisle and there is much to think about as we take the walk. Maybe by Easter we might better be able to see the love of God unveiled for us. This is my son, my Chosen; listen to him!