Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Moses Receives the Tablets - Marc Chagall

That strange New Testament episode known as ‘The Transfiguration’ is unique in the Church Calendar. It is the only event in the life of Christ that is observed twice – on the traditional ‘Feast of the Transfiguration’ (Aug 6th) and on the Sunday before Lent, now widely referred to as ‘Transfiguration Sunday’. The lessons for this year are unusually integrated. The Old Testament tells the story of Moses on Sinai that Paul then refers to in the Epistle. It is the very same story that occurs immediately to the disciples, when they see what happens to Jesus on the mountain top.
It was on Mount Sinai that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. When he descends his face is shining with a brightness so unnatural that it unnerves the Israelites. And so, after subsequent visits to the Holy of Holies, he covers his face with a veil. The message, Paul tells us, is that the Israelites were unprepared or unwilling to encounter God’s glory. Now, thanks to Christ, we are enabled to do so. But our ability to do so does not arise from the Transfiguration that Peter, James and John witness. Rather, that experience prepares them to witness the Resurrection. It removes the veil that would otherwise prevent them from seeing God in a crucified criminal.
Transfiguration - Fra Angelica (1440)
The season of Lent just approaching is an opportunity to put aside the various ‘veils’ of selfishness and sin that can hide Easter. Despite the familiarity of the phrase, very few people can expect to have ‘mountain top’ experiences. Yet something much less dramatic can serve the same end. In his hymn ‘Spirit of God, descend upon my heart’ the 19thC Irish Anglican priest George Croly (1780-1860) beautifully encapsulated this thought.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay
No angel visitant, no opening skies.
But take the dimness of my soul away

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