Resurrection Lutheran Church, St Catharines
Behind the Veil
Rev. Kurt Lantz Transfiguration Exodus 34:29-35
January 29, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people in the shining light of Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The traditional use of a veil is only rarely employed these days at weddings and funerals. The use of the veil is not to obscure the face completely, but to temper the appearance. It is not to disguise the features of the bride, but to highlight her beauty reserved most intimately for her husband. It is not to block out the face of the widow, but to confess that it bears the marks of grief.
In the Old Testament Reading for today (Exodus 34:29-35) we heard that Moses’ face shone after he spoke with the LORD on Mount Sinai, such that the people were afraid and ran away from him. He had to call them back so that he could speak to them what the LORD had spoken to him on the mountain. And then he would put a veil over his face until the next time the LORD spoke with him.
The veil was not a signal to the people that the glory of the LORD had left the face of Moses when it was covered. Rather, it confirmed for them that the LORD’s glory continued to shine on Moses’ face. Otherwise there would have been no need for a veil at all.
The Gospel Readings throughout the season of Epiphany reveal to us the radiant glory of the divine nature that is united to the human nature in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth: the foreign magi were drawn to worship Him by the leading of a star (Matthew 2:1-12); at His baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him visibly and the voice of God the Father from heaven announced Him to be His beloved and well-pleasing Son (Matthew 3:13-17); He changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11); He healed a leper with a touch and then the centurion’s servant without even going to the house (Matthew 8:5-13). These manifestations of the glory of God shone in the words and actions of Jesus that we might see His glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Jesus in a unique manner. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes while on a mountain, so that “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). Like the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses shining, the three disciples were terrified, particularly when they also heard the voice of the heavenly Father, and the cloud of glory overshadowed them (vv. 5-6).
Seeing also Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus brought to remembrance the way in which the LORD met with Moses on Mount Sinai in cloud and thunder and lightning (Exodus 19:16-20). Moses’ face shone because he had spoken with the LORD who was present in His glory. It was a reflected radiance. Jesus’ face shone because He is the LORD of glory. It was a revelation of His very nature, not reflected upon Him but emanating from Himself.
Jesus is the Word of God who has come to us that we might see His glory. The fearful Word of God’s holy Law has been tempered by the Gospel of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:14). In Him the true glory of God is revealed as compassion for sinful mankind.
The glory of God in Jesus Christ was revealed on the mountain, but it was present with Him before He ever ascended to the top. And the glory of God in Jesus Christ also came down from the mountain and went to the cross where it shines most brilliantly. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, there was no need for Him to wear a veil, for the full glory of the LORD has been revealed to us through the marks of the nails that held Him to the cross and through a hole pierced in His side by a Roman spear to make sure He was dead. These perforating scars do not diminish His glory in any way, but allow us to behold it most vividly through His crucifixion and resurrection for us.
The human nature of Jesus operates as a veil for the glory of His divine nature—a veil that does not obscure the glory of God, but reveals it in a such a way that we are more assured of the beauty and compassion of His person. The eternal Son of God did not take on His human nature in order to hide His true self from us. Rather, the divine nature was veiled in human flesh in order to reveal the glory of God in His love for mankind—a love in which He united Himself to us like a veiled bride comes to be united to her love; a love in which He grieves as a widow over those dead in trespasses and sins and longs to give them life in forgiveness and grace.
Like the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, we run away from the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus. When He brought a miraculous catch of fish into the net Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). When He cast the demons out and sent them into the pigs, the townspeople “begged Him to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34). And when He raised Lazarus from the dead the chief priests and Pharisees, without denying the miracle or who He said He was, “made plans to put Him to death” (John 11:53).
We fear the glory of God because of our sins. We hide like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). We are afraid to come near like the children of Israel were afraid of Moses’ shining face (Exodus 34:30). We plead for Him to leave us alone. We beg Him to go away because, as Moses covered in the cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:22), it is too much for us to see the face of God and live.
God took on human flesh much like putting on a veil. It was not in order to cut us off from His glory. He did it so that we might truly see His glory. He did it in order that we might come into His presence with the magi and worship Him. He did it that we might not run away, but gather together in the same room with Him and receive His blessings like those at the wedding feast in Cana. He did it that we might feel His healing touch like the leper and unworthily address our prayers to Him with faith that He will yet answer with amazing grace and power, like the centurion experienced when pleading for his servant.
The glory of God veiled in the human nature of Jesus Christ reveals to us the great love and compassion that He has to come to the aid and rescue of sinners. We see through the human flesh of Jesus to the face of the eternal God who governs the cosmos; and we see all of that glory in blessing and healing and forgiving and raising.
As Jesus’ face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light, Peter, James, and John knew that their Teacher was the one true glorious God in human flesh. But Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone until He had risen from the dead (Matthew 17:9), because we actually see more of the glorious nature of God when Jesus veils that brilliant glory and comes to touch His disciples and raise them up, and goes back down that mountain to the people who needed His Word of forgiveness and life, who needed to be healed and restored, and raised.
We see more of the glory of God through the veil of the human flesh of Christ that was bloodied for us when He was arrested and beaten. That veil was ripped and torn as He was scourged by the Roman soldiers. That veil was full of holes by the time He died upon the cross for us. And His glory shines brighter than ever as we behold the beauty and compassion of His divine nature in the bloodied, torn, veil full of holes. How else would we have seen the true face of God other than veiled in the human nature of Jesus?
Our sins would cause us to flee from God’s glorious presence if we could not see it through the veil of the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. In His passion, death, and resurrection, the true nature of God is revealed, showing His great grief over lost sinners and His unfathomable love in giving His life for us. It shows us grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness.
When it came time for Jesus to head directly to Jerusalem and the cross, He said, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). It is on the cross that we see the full glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the way it has been from eternity with all of its brilliance. The glory of Jesus was not dimmed at all when He died upon the cross. It shone just as brilliant as it did at the Transfiguration. But it was veiled in a manner that revealed more to us than we could have ever seen in the bright radiance of His thundering light. Through Jesus Christ crucified we see the true glory of God with more definition and clarity, like putting a filter lens on your telescope so that you can more clearly see the craters on the surface of the moon when it is so brightly shining in a dark sky.
Jesus allows us to see the bright glory of God shining so brightly into the darkness of this sinful world and even into the depths of the deep darkness of our sinful hearts. We see His glory defined so clearly that we know we need not run and hide nor beg Him to go away. We can approach Him and not fear. We can come close and know that He is with us to bless and heal and forgive and raise up. We can touch His body and blood even as unworthy sinners knowing that He has given and shed it for this very purpose, that we might know His glory in His grief over the lost and in His compassion for us sinners.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.