Exodus 34:29 – 35
2 Corinthians 3.7 – 18
If you had attended a morning service today and heard Luke’s Gospel account of the transfiguration of Our Lord, you will know that when Jesus led the disciples up a mountain they dozed of presumably because of the exertion. When they wake they see the glorified Jesus in dazzlingly white clothes; and the appearance of his face has changed. Moses and Elijah are with him and they are terrified.
In our first reading this afternoon, Israelites are standing in awe of God’s glory reflected in the shining face of Moses as he comes down from Sinai with a new set of tablets of stone bearing the ten commandments carved on them. Just as light shines from God’s face as a source of blessing and peace, so the light shining from Moses’ face is a signal of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to Israel; giving the Israelites a second chance despite the fact that until now they had been worshipping a golden calf made by Moses’ brother Aaron.
Today we proclaim with confidence the gracious character of God, who offers us a second chance by renewing the covenant with us; and being present in our community. We, in turn, can reflect how God’s light shines through us, through our actions and the way we live our lives as ordinary people of faith; making God’s transforming presence known here and where we live.
Given the importance of Moses’ shining face, the purpose of the ‘veil’ is unclear. The Hebrew word only appears only here, so when the Israelites were quaking in their sandals at Moses’ appearance, presumably because they had a guilty conscience, so the veil on Moses’ face may have been some kind of protection and assurance of God’s grace.
The veil was not so general in ancient as in modern times, when it has tended to become associated with the Islamic tradition. Among the Jews of the New Testament age it was customary for women to cover their heads, not necessarily their faces, when engaged in public worship.
Today’s bridal veil has a number of symbolic meanings but in a Christian context it reminds us of the temple veil which was torn in two when Christ died on the cross. The removing of the veil took away the separation between us and God, giving believers access to the very presence of God. Since Christian marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and the church, we see a reflection of this relationship with the lifting of the bridal veil.
In the passage from Corinthians, Paul takes this story of Moses’ veil in reference to the old covenant which is set aside in Christ. Paul is making the claim that the old covenant, the old “good news,” if you like, cannot be properly understood and accepted until the veil is removed. Then with faces unveiled we will finally know the glory of God.
It would be wrong to read some of of Paul’s words as an outright rejection of the Old Testament. Paul does not reject the Old Testament. He does however argue for a particular reading of it, one that is possible only in the Spirit. Paul is advocating an unveiling of the heart in relationship to the gospel. This is his goal. If we turn to the Lord, the veil is removed.
The church in Corinth was proving a great heartache to the apostle. Yet, the apostle is certain that the church’s continued existence, in spite of itself, is a sign that God is at work within it. God has called the Corinthians to be God’s church, and God is actively at work transforming the believers.
Paul is filled with a hope that is firmly planted in God. Paul does not dispute that the written code was from God and conveyed God’s glory, but that glory was fleeting. The shining of Moses’ face came and went. Instead of tablets of stone, Paul writes of something inscribed on our hearts. His logic is simple. If something as holy as the law could lead to a fleeting transformation of Moses’ face, then surely God’s work through Christ can lead to permanent transformation in all of us.
Christ has removed the veil that conceals God’s transformative glory. The veil is a huge obstacle. For Paul, Christ’s removal of the veil cannot help but be a transformative experience. Seeing the glory of the Lord changes everything because we are no longer separated from the glory of God by Moses’ face, or by the tabernacle, or by the veil in the Temple.
Separation from loved ones is one of the hardest things in life. Whether the separation comes from death, or distance, or a breakdown in a relationship, it is something we all experience, sooner or later. Sometimes even faithful Christians feel separated from God. In any congregation, at any given time, there are people for whom separation, and the desire for re-union, is the defining issue in their lives.
People whose lives are defined by separation yearn for a sense of belonging.
They wonder if they will ever have a place with God and other people. They live as orphans, aliens, exiles, or outcasts. Their need is for God to ‘tear the veil’ of separation, and to reveal that a person does indeed belong – to God and to a community of faith. This is what Jesus can do for them. For them, salvation means coming home, being let into God’s presence. It means being in harmony with God at long last. Amen.