The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 March 2019

TheLast Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 March 2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Saint Luke 9:28-36

Background: The Feast of the Transfiguration


The earliest that we know of a celebration of the Transfiguration was in the ninth century. Later Pope Calixtus III moved the celebration to 6 August to commemorate the victory at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Celebration on this date is known in the Syrian Orthodox, Indian Orthodoxd, Orthodox churches using the revised Julian calendars, Catholic, Old Catholic, and Anglican Churches. Lutheran Churches following the reforms that followed Vatican II and the introduction of the Three-Year Lectionary also celebrate the day on 6 August, although the readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany rehearse those readings as well. The Church of Sweden and the Church of Finland celebrate the feast on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35


Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

There are some unique things about this pericope. The first is, and it is not evident in our translation here, that the name of Moses is repeated three times in the initial verse of the pericope – “Moses came down,” “in Moses’ hands,” and“Moses did not know.” The emphasis is clearly on Moses. The second unique quality is the only use of the verb qaran. Our translation uses the word “shone” to translate the verb. Robert Alter translate the phrase as “had begun to glow”. The Greek and Latin translations of this pericope translated it as “sprouted horns” from the Hebrew word qeren“horn”, thus explaining the depiction by various artists of Moses with horns coming out of his head. The depiction of notable figures with a divine radiance was a common image in the ancient near east, and thus this seems the best translation of this verb. It appears the glow did not have a calming effect for the people “were afraid to come near him.”The veil that Moses wears in order to conceal his divine radiance is compared by some commentators with the veil in the Temple. 

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. Have you ever seen God?
  2. What is your image of God?
  3. When does your face shine?

Psalm 99 Dominus regnavit


1      The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
     The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
     Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
     "O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob."
     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
     He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
     O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.


The reaction of the people having seen the face of a glowing Moses is reflected in this psalm as well, where the people tremble at the glory of God’s kingship – seated upon the cherubim. Various aspects are used to depict the majesty of YHWH – God is great, high, and God’s name is awesome. The enthronement of ancient kings is duplicated here right down to the footstool at which the people bow. Both prophets and priests (Moses, Aaron, and Samuel) are named as calling upon God’s name. The psalm reminds us that we stand in a long line of those who have honored and gloried in YHWH. In the same way, Jesus will be seen standing with Moses and Elijah in the Gospel.

Breaking open Psalm 99:
  1. When have you been awestruck?
  2. When is something truly awesome to you?
  3. Do you ever experience awe in church?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 3:12-4:2


Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Paul clearly sees his own glory in his following Jesus. Unlike Moses who had to hide his glory with a veil – protecting the people from that glory – Paul is open about his relationship with Jesus. He states it quite clearly, “we act with great boldness.”Paul takes the notion of that veil further, seeing in it an image of the rejection of the Good News that Jesus brings. Paul hints at the oppression that the Law represents – its ability to bind minds and hearts. He appeals to the freedom that the Spirit brings. Paul hints that there are many things that need to be hidden, but the grace of God is not one of them. He is freed up in “the open statement of the truth we commend”. 

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. What is your glory?
  2. How is your glory related to your faith?
  3. What is the glory of your deeds for others?

The Gospel: St. Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]


About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

[On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]

The Transfiguration of Jesus falls in the midst of a deep and rich context of ministry – the confession of Peter, a Passion prediction, the feeding of many people, and teaching on what it means to be a disciple. It is almost necessary, given all this content, to have a sharp and keen image of who it is that Jesus is. The Transfiguration serves that need, and reveals the difficulty that the disciples yet have in knowing him. Later it will be Paul who will declare Christ opening (see the Second Reading) but here Jesus urges them to be silent and quiet – the time is not yet ripe. The question that this pericope and the optional one that follows asks is what is really necessary for us to know Jesus. The material that leads up to this scene is generous in its ability to show the true nature of Jesus, and the material that follows shows disciples who yet do not know the power of following their master. The act of healing gives opportunity for belief, “And all were astounded (Luke’s code word for believing) at the greatness of God. It’s an interesting phrase – for the focus is not on Jesus’ greatness, but on God. 

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What in your life has been changed/transfigured?
  2. Was it for good or for ill?
  3. How have you changed the lives of others?

Principal Question:        What is it that you see?

Vision One:                      Reflected glory in our lives. (First Reading)

Vision Two:                     The Majesty of God – Where? (Psalm)

Vision Three:                   In the glory of Jesus reflected in what we say and do – our openness to God’s glory in our lives (Second Reading)

Vision Four:                     In the ministry done in Jesus name (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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