Sunday next before Lent

27th February 2022

Exodus 34:29-35

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. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99

1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.

2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.

9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

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 that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection

Ascending Mount Sinai, Moses draws close to God. It is a transformative experience: God’s glory shines through him. But is is not just Moses’ appearance that has changed; so too has his understanding of God and what God desires. Moses comes back down from the mountain with a new teaching, a new way of living that is in accordance with God’s will. Moses presents this to the Israelites through the medium of the Law.

The psalmist presents God as king. A king is one who reigns, one who determines how people will live within the  bounds of his kingdom.  God’s kingdom, God’s rule, says the psalmist, is characterised, by justice, equity and righteousness. 

I think Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is being a bit harsh in its condemnation of the the Jews. But then we too can equally be blinkered especially if we do not expect to see or hear a different interpretation – and that is as true of what we may hear on the news as of what we hear from scripture. We need to question are assumptions and to be enquiring. 

What Paul does want to say is that when we see and hear through the medium of our relationship with Jesus, our understanding will be completely transformed. It will be a route to freedom, a route that will see us being daily transformed by the glory of God. 

As with Moses’ experience, so for the disciples. When they are in such close proximity to God’s presence, they are overwhelmed by God’s glory. When Moses came back down from the mountain, he brought with him the Law, enscribed on tablets of stone. When the disciples came down from the mountain, they return with Jesus. Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s will for humankind. In Jesus’s example and teaching, we learn what is God’s will for the world. And as God says, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Today’s readings are about hearing and seeing differently – hearing and seeing as God, and not the world, would have us hear and see. If we did, we would experience the world as a place where justice and equity and righteousness flourish. 

Pause a moment. What would such a world be like? Would there be people going to bed hungry? Would there be people fearing the loss of freedom and citizenship? Would there be people exposed to bombs and bullets? Would there be widespread destruction of rain forests, the depletion of soils, the loss of habitat and extinction of plants and animals? Would there be extreme weather patterns caused by human exploitation? Would there be a super rich 1% and an impoverished 90%? Would there be families dependent on food banks,  people with no stable income, young people unable to afford  homes, old people unable to afford care? 

If we know Jesus Christ, if we have faith in his teachings, if we were to follow his example, then through us God’s Spirit would be transforming the world. We can see it happening in small ways.

A couple of week’s ago at Christ Church we heard about the work of Partners for Change transforming the lives of Ethiopian communities. This fortnight we are marking the work of the Fairtrade Foundation, seeing both how it transforms the lives of others and protects and enhances the natural environment, and are being reminded how we can actively participate in that change. In our intercessions today we will be praying for the work of Christians Against Poverty which provides support and life skills and encouragement for people whose lives have been eroded by debt. 

We can use the time and discipline Lent gives us to hear anew what Jesus teaches, to reshape our lives to express his love for the people we meet day by day, to care for the natural world in which we live, and to support the work that is bringing justice and equity and righteousness to prevail. Let God’s kingdom come on earth! 

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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