Hope Beyond the Veil
Hope Beyond the Veil
As Christians we place our hope in Christ. Hope for a better future, hope for peace, hope for equality and an equitable society. There is much that we hope for. Christ is the center of that hope. Our readings today establish that hope in a number of different ways. Perhaps most relatable to us are the disciples who are absent from the gospel story in Luke. We, like them, place our hope in something we have not experience but which we trust deeply.
Hope Beyond the Veil
As you know I preach what is known as the Lectionary cycle. A three-year cycle of scripture readings. Each week normally a Psalm, Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel reading is part of the cycle. These readings are set and repeat every three years. Three years ago, on Transfiguration Sunday it was the same three readings. Normally, we read the Psalm and perhaps one or two other passages. Usually, the gospel and one of the other readings. The readings are put together for a reason, often it is thematic making a similar point about what we believe in God.
Today the connection is very clear as each reading connects itself to the passage from Exodus where we find the description of Moses having a shining face. So bright he had to wear a veil to hide the light.
If you have ever wondered why some biblical imagery looks frightening and strange this passage is an example of it. Justin Michael Reed writes, “For centuries, Moses’ terrifying visage was often described as “having horns” rather than “shining.” An early translation of the Bible into Latin (by Jerome in the 4th century CE) popularized the notion that Moses had horns in the Christian world, and many famous artistic renderings of Moses carried on this tradition.” (Justin Michael Reed) Most modern scholars would argue that the 4th century CE translation by Jerome is not accurate and that is why you see the word shining instead of horns.
After his encounter with God, Moses is described as having a shining visage. It was so bright he wore a veil to hide it. In some ways it is described as terrifying, Moses was changed by his encounter with God. This encounter happens after the Israelites have fashioned golden calves and other idols. This is the hardening of hearts that Paul refers to when he writes about this in 2 Corinthians. Moses gains this shining appearance because he argues with God on behalf of the Israelites. God is ready to be done with them and Moses asks God to be merciful.
And God is merciful and we can find hope in that message.
Hope is a theme that is bound up in 2 Corinthians. The hope we have in Christ. The hope we have that through Christ our lives are being transformed by the glory of God for the betterment, not just of ourselves, but of all people. Paul isn’t writing to individuals; he is writing to a community of faith. That the whole community might place it’s hope in Christ and be transformed.
However, there are some warnings for us as modern readers of this passage. Some assumptions we might make which can colour the way we read and interpret this passage. Lois Malcom writes, “We must note, especially given Christian anti-Semitism over the centuries, that at the time Paul wrote this letter, the messianic movement around Jesus was still a sect within Judaism. Further, Paul was not addressing “Jewish legalism” in this letter, but the misuse of spiritual power related to false claims rival apostles within this messianic movement were making about Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (11:4) and what it means to an “apostle of the Messiah” (11:13) in the service of “righteousness” (3:9; 11:5).” (Lois Malcolm)
We read this passage as Christians, Paul wrote it a community that was a sect of Judaism. A sect that was now including Gentiles into its community and struggling with its own sense of legalism and sense of obligation to one another. Paul reminds us that Jesus tore the veil down, the curtain in the temple was ripped when Jesus died on the cross. This is our source of hope, that God is with us and invites us into relationship with one another.
Both the passage from Exodus and 2 Corinthians deal with the issue of the veil, God’s mercy and the hope we find in each. Justin Michael Reed writes, “The symbol of Moses’ frightful face conveying the nourishing word of God … can remind us that we can be honest about the odd and terrifying aspects of life while also putting our hope in a vision of the God who can sustain us.” (Justin Michael Reed)
The Israelites in Exodus were having problems. The community in Corinth that Paul was writing to was having problems. Life wasn’t easy or even necessarily good for either community. But faith in God can sustain and carry us through.
Finally, we reach the mountaintop with Peter, James and John. They have travelled with Jesus and they witness a sight that they don’t really know what to do with. Moses and Elijah appear and we are reminded of the passage in Exodus, because Jesus was transfigured his face changed and his clothing was bright white. They saw him in his glory.
The passage contains a cruel irony. Though we have read it and Luke’s original audience and Christians through the years have read it. The other nine disciples are unaware of this event and Jesus asks that Peter, James and John speak of it to no one. On this encounter Sarah Henrich writes, “Although Peter, James, and John have this awe-some experience, the other nine follow Jesus on his exodus journey without that experience. We are probably, most of us, more like the nine who go along anyway, except that now the experience of hope beyond the difficulties of our journeys is also given to us.” (Sarah Henrich)
Through scripture we are given access to the hope that those three disciples must have known. Each of these passages today speaks to how God is revealed to us and the hope that we experience. We see God’s mercy at work, and we remember that this mercy is literally the point of the gospels. No matter what else is happening in your life, God’s mercy is at work. We have been invited beyond they veil and there is hope in that. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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