2 Cor 3:12-4:2
1 Cor 15:54-58
by Rev Dave Bookless PhD, Director of Theology, A Rocha International
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, where he has spent 40 days in God’s presence, and his face is ‘radiant’ – shining with the reflected glory of having been in God’s presence. This was the second time Moses had been up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments – earlier the people of Israel had become impatient with Moses’ absence and had created and worshipped the golden calf, leading to God’s devastating judgement. In these chapters of Exodus there is great emphasis on God’s glory, his ‘shekinah’, represented in the cloud that surrounds but also conceals his presence. Moses himself wears a veil, not – as we might guess – to shield people from God’s glory but rather (as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:13) because the glory was slowly fading away, like that of the Old Covenant in the light of the New Covenant found in Jesus. There are parallels here (also explored in our other passages) in how God’s glory is reflected in nature. Creation gives us veiled glimpses of the awesome power, beauty and purity of God. Like Moses’ face, it points beyond itself to the true glory in the face of God, a glory beyond our capacity to fully ‘see’ now.
This Psalm speaks of God’s unique power and majesty. He ‘reigns’, is ‘enthroned’, ‘great’, ‘exalted’, ‘awesome’, ‘holy’, ‘mighty’ (all in vs.1-4). Yet, God is not a distant cosmic deity we cannot relate to. He also ‘loves justice’ (v.4), speaks and answers when we cry out (vs.6-7), and is a forgiving God (v.8). So, how are we to respond – and how does creation react – to this God, who is both totally ‘other’ and also reaches out in compassion and mercy? Human nations ‘tremble’ and the earth itself ‘shakes’ (v.1). Our primary response is to worship – to ‘praise’ and ‘exalt’ God (vs.3,5,9) to obey his statutes and decrees (v.7), and to worship at His holy mountain. Today, we still need to respond in humility and worship to God’s holiness and majesty, revealed in creation’s awesome beauty, power and diversity, and also revealed in God’s acts in history, revealed in the Bible and in our experience today.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2:
The Apostle Paul contrasts the passing glory of the Old Covenant, with its laws written on stone and ultimately leading to death, with the enduring glory of the New Covenant achieved through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and realised through the transforming freedom produced by the Holy Spirit. At first sight, this passage has little to say directly about creation care. However, this is an important reminder that our human efforts (works of the law) cannot save us, nor can they save the planet. We must resist narratives that it’s up to us on our own to prevent climate catastrophe … just as we must equally resist narratives that we should sit back and leave it all up to God. Rather we are to respond to God’s saving initiative in Christ, which gives us hope both for ourselves and creation. Our response is to care for creation, not primarily to save ourselves, future generations or biodiversity, nor to earn God’s favour, but out of freely-given worship. Climate action and creation care are our responses to God’s initiative and love for us and for all creation, and to God’s passion for justice.
Luke 9:28-36 (27-43a):
Jesus’ transfiguration is the classic mountain top experience, complete with the come down afterwards when his disciples fail to heal a possessed boy. There are lots of implicit links to other bible passages about God’s glory, including this week’s Exodus passage. These include the cloud from which God speaks (vs.34-35), the ‘shekinah’ of God’s glory seen on Mount Sinai, and also echoing God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism: ‘This is my Son’ (Luke 3:21-22). Luke’s baptism account describes it as ‘heaven opened’. Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus, representing the Law and the Prophets, and they point towards Jesus’ coming ‘departure’ and ‘fulfilment’ in Jerusalem. Obviously, the primary focus is on Jesus being revealed as God’s Son prior to his death, resurrection and glorification. Yet, there are important insights too about how God’s glory is revealed in, through and beyond material creation. As the sermon outline explains, transfiguration – when true spiritual reality is glimpsed through physical creation (in this case the face and body of Jesus) –
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
The poem ‘God’s Grandeur’, by the poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins begins with the lines:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
In these words, the poet captures a profound insight. Everything that God created ‘good’, and in fact the complete creation God which declared ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31), reflects in a special way something of God’s glory and grandeur. Many of us experience glimpses of this in the awesome beauty and mystery of God’s world. Our hearts are lifted and we can feel caught up into something so much bigger and majestic.
Stop and think. Have you ever …
- been outside on a cloudless night looking at the vastness of the skies and the countless stars?
- stood on the seashore, wondering at the dizzying power of the tides and waves?
- looked at the patterns and colours within fallen leaves, and the tiny organisms that live on them?
- stopped and wondered at birdsong, ants, bees, wildflowers, spiders’ webs, snowflakes etc?
All of these are potentially moments of ‘transfiguration’, when true reality in all its wondrous colour and depth is glimpsed within the material world.
The bible contains many examples of such moments where people or things are transfigured to reveal God’s glory. We can think of Moses and the burning bush, which was on fire without burning up, and from our Old Testament reading, Moses’ face shining with the glory of having spent time in God’s presence on Mount Sinai. Supremely, we this in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, when his true nature was revealed, when Moses and Elijah confirmed him as fulfilling the law and the prophets, when his face and clothing were transformed and shone brightly, and when God’s voice spoke from the cloud affirming Jesus as God’s son. This is the ultimate transfiguration – when the full glory of God is revealed in the face and even the clothing of a physical, flesh-and-blood human being.
Sometimes people speak of Jesus’ transfiguration as if it shows that true reality is spiritual rather than material, but that misses the point. This is not about heaven being more glorious than earth, or the spiritual being more ‘real’ than the physical. What we actually see here is the ultimate affirmation of the goodness of material creation. The physical body of Jesus is not simply a receptacle for the spiritual glory of God. It is actually fundamental to it. God’s full glory is revealed not in purely ‘spiritual’ experiences, but in the transformation – the transfiguration – of the material flesh and even clothing of Jesus.
The new creation, which the New Testament promises as our ultimate hope, is not a spiritual replacement for this physical world. The word ‘new’ when speaking of new creation and ‘new heavens and new earth’ is always kainos not neos in the Greek of the New Testament. Kainos speaks of renewal and transfiguration, not decay and replacement. The glimpse of transfiguration seen in Jesus on the mountain top points to the full transfiguration of his body in resurrection and ascension. It is a transfiguration where the physical and spiritual, the life of heaven and the life of earth, combine. New creation, of which Jesus’ risen body is the firstfruits, is when the separation that has existed between heaven and earth ever since sin entered the Garden of Eden will be overcome and the whole world will be charged, once again, with the grandeur of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘God’s Grandeur’ concludes with these lines:
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
If we are to tackle today’s climate and biodiversity crises, we need more than science, education and activism. We need a vision of how things should be, can be, and one day will be. Glimpses of transfiguration, in nature’s mystery and beauty, in human lives and, most fully, in the person and life of Jesus Christ point us to hope beyond tragedy, and give us the strength to continue striving for justice and for the restoration of God’s creation.
Transfiguration, by Malcolm Guite
For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.
by PhD Dave Bookless, A Rocha International, London