Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack. We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
1st Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
This section of the Book of Exodus (chs. 32-34) is the account of the renewal of the covenant after the rebellion of the people and the smashing of the first tablets (chs. 19-24). Our reading today is the account of Moses returning from the mountain the second time with the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses’ face shone because he had been in the presence of God. The people were afraid and so Moses used a veil. This apparently continued as Moses went in and out of the Tabernacle to speak with God.
34:29 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. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 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, 35 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.
Psalm 99 proclaims God as King and is part of the “enthronement psalms” (Psalms 93, 95-99). Their purpose is to proclaim that God still reigns despite the failure of the Davidic covenant, including the loss of land, temple, and monarchy. The references here are back to “origins,” to Moses and Aaron and (most significantly) Samuel, who opposed the establishment of the monarchy on the grounds that only God could be Israel’s king.
1 The Lord is king;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name. *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
Our second reading is Paul’s midrash (a form of Jewish biblical interpretation in which the interpreter is often fairly free with the original text) on our first reading from Exodus. He speaks of the veil over Moses’ face as akin to the veil over the minds and hearts of the people of Israel so that they could not understand the message. It is a veil, he says, that only Christ can set aside. This is a difficult passage for those of us who have great respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul is making exclusivist claims about his own faith against that of his fellow Jews. Yet the passage ends well: we are being changed from one degree of glory to another and we do not lose heart.
3:12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 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. 14 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. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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. 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 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.
Gospel Reading: Luke 9:28-43
Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack. We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Indeed near the end of the chapter (v. 51) there will be a sudden transition: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Peter assumes/hopes the experience will last longer but they are sent quickly away with the same voice from Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, my Chosen,” with the added “Listen to him!” Having returned from the mountain Jesus is dismayed to find the rest of the disciples powerless to help a child in need.
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 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. 33 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. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 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. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 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. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 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. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.