Let me ask you, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word, “unveiling”? Apple releasing a highly anticipated product, a famous artist revealing new works, theater curtain raising at the start of a play? Or on a smaller scale, the unwrapping of a gift, lifting of a bridal veil, game of peek-a-boo? How much do these everyday experiences have in common with the glorious moments of transcendence in which we partake only a handful of times in our lives? Those moments when our sense of self is absorbed in the awareness of something much greater, when time stops, and infinity stretches before us, and we catch a mere glimpse of God’s face that s/he chooses to unveil?
I think that what’s common in all these analogies is that these experiences are gifts to us that surprise us, and occur independently (and even in spite!) of anything we do to achieve them. Some people find it worth keeping a journal of such extraordinary events, either by writing it down in a word or two, or sketching quick, gestural drawings. I call my collection of such memories “my treasure box,” and I turn to it whenever I need a reminder of joy, or a proof that God is always present. Our scriptures contain such a “treasure box” as well – a set of stories describing sudden and shockingly full visions of God; the “mountain-top” experiences, so to speak.
From the OT, what comes to mind is Moses on Mt Sinai; from the gospels - transfiguration, the text we read annually on the last Sunday before Lent. Our lectionary pairs them every three years, but these stories have been read in parallel for a long time. In fact, well before the gospels were written, the analogy between Jesus and Moses was drawn by the apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth. The logic of a convoluted portion we read today hinges on the detail that when Moses encountered God on the mountain, his face acquired a radiance that hurt people’s eyes. You can already see the similarity with Jesus’ supernatural radiance acquired on Mt Tabor, to be written about later. But for now, what Paul does, is create this skilful play between Moses-the-person, whole face was painfully bright and needed to be veiled, and Moses-the-text, which casts too strong of a light on our inability to fulfill the Law, causing us to shield the eyes of our hearts from its light (“when Moses is read, a veil lies over the minds”). Yet, according to Paul, we must contemplate the sacred texts in order to grow closer to God. Hence, his solution: look to Christ. In him, the veil is lifted off of God’s face, and we observe the essence of God in his humanity. Thereby, the veil lifts off our own faces, too, the light of God strikes its surface, and causes it to reflect God’s Image.
Now the author of Luke, if not necessarily the historical companion of Paul on his journeys, then at least someone quite familiar with these church letters, picks up on this play, and constructs his own narrative so as to mirror the storyline of Exodus and the character of Moses. As such, both Moses and Jesus made an exodus from the place of enslavement towards the promised land. Each performed signs and wonders, went into deserted places, crossed a “sea” [of Galilee, in Jesus’ case], led the multitudes and fed them the bread of heaven. The numbering of the males and the division of the 5,000 into groups of 50 in the feeding episode echoes that which took place in the desert and at entry to Cannan. Each began the exodus with the mountain-top epiphany, together with three close followers. Of these, Aaron received the plans for the Tabernacle, and similarly, Peter desired to mark the sacredness of the event by building three shrines. Little did he know that shortly thereafter, he would build something much greater than what he envisioned here, by becoming the rock in the Church’s foundation, in which our daily sacrifices of worship and compassion would replace Judaic sacrifices. And of course, both Moses and Jesus’ faces began to shine. To me, this indicates that the journey to freedom begins with reflecting God’s light.
Yet, Jesus' appearance did return to ordinary; and the veil on Moses’ face did, in fact, hide not only the initially intolerable glow, but also its eventual fading. As such, the intensity of our own mountain-top experiences is temporary; but, the Image of God that we now only dimly reflect will exist in us for eternity. It is only in the promised land that our sense of self will fully merge with this Image; yet, by keeping our faces unveiled, now, we begin to form this likeness.
For such is the way of any meaningful relationships, including those with God: to truly “see” another means to allow yourself to be seen. In every example of unveiling with which I opened today, on the other side of the veil, there lies a mystery. Now, consider ourselves, also as that mystery; perhaps, as a dancer who stands on a dimly lit stage, waiting for the curtain to lift. The time is almost here to show off not our beauty, skills, and gifts, but also something fundamental of our true nature - consequently, the time to become vulnerable. So, we may question how ready we are, if we practiced enough, how we compare to others, and we face our fears.
But, as any true vocation does, it leaves us with no choice but to stand on that stage, so that we might experience, time and time again, the lights, the applause, and to give joy to the people who came to see us. In life, all of us have certain things we would prefer to “keep under wraps”, and all of us construct a set of veils that protects us from being seen, yet at the same time, prevents us from seeing the glory of God in the world, scriptures, and people. For some of us, it is a veil of skepticism and sarcasm; for others – of wariness and insecurity. What’s yours, today? Be ready to have it lifted, as on occasion, circumstances do arise that remove these layers of protection that we so carefully try to construct. Yet, God is there for us, ready to help us shine; for even as we want to stay less vulnerable, we all desire to connect and be understood, as that’s what sets us free. And what truly matters is that the glow of something bigger than ourselves will come through, in all of this – with God’s help.