The Succentor - Revd Rachel Young
“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.” (2 Cor 3.18).
A long time ago, when I was studying art at school, I became fascinated with ‘chiaroscuro’ – which literally means ‘light-dark’. In Baroque and Renaissance art it was a technique of using strong contrasts of light and dark to give depth to a painting.
The effect is for it to seem that a strong light source is coming from either beyond the painting, or from within the painting, but either way the light source is hidden.
Light is an important concept in the Christian faith, and is described in the Bible as a characteristic of heaven, and of God – since nothing evil can exist if all is light.
The three Bible readings we have heard this morning all describe something to do with light – the light which emanates from God, from heaven where God dwells. In all of them, we see in our minds’ eye descriptive pictures and in two of them the light source is hidden.
Our first reading from Exodus was part of the longer story of Moses receiving the commandments from God for the people of Israel. Moses had been in conversation with God, and God had renewed the covenant with Moses and promised to show Moses God’s glory, when he asked for it.
And Moses’ face shone – was radiant – because he had been talking with God. He was the mediator between God and the people. His face reflected the radiance of God. So much so that Moses put a veil over his face when he talked to the people, because it was too intense for them.
A definition of God’s glory is, “the beauty that emanates from God’s character or Spirit”;
the glory of God which was present in the cloud which led the Israelites in the wilderness;
the glory – the beauty – that which deserves praise and honour;
that which was reflected in Moses’ face as radiance;
and although God didn’t hide from Moses,
God was hidden from the people.
Jesus’ face also radiated the glory of God in our gospel reading from Luke. This account of the Transfiguration is heavy with symbolism that reaches back to the accounts of Moses;
because Luke has an agenda – to show who Jesus is.
Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus’ appearance changing; “his clothes became dazzling white”, and then Moses and Elijah appeared to talk with Jesus. The lawgiver and the great prophet, two giants of the faith of Israel, and Jesus on a par with them.
‘This is who Jesus is,’ Luke says.
The face and appearance of Jesus reflected the light coming from God.
And then “a cloud came and overshadowed them…” and “from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!’”
The same cloud that had descended on Moses;
the same cloud that indicated the presence of God;
and no less than God’s words telling them (and us)
in no uncertain terms who Jesus is!
Light also played an important part in the conversion experience of the apostle Paul, as he recounts it in Acts, chapter 9.
Light, in the form of lightening which also featured in the cloud on Mount Sinai, and the words of God. At least, he would have been expecting them to be the words of God.
But the person he actually heard speaking was Christ –
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 9.5)
This is the experience which, together with his training as a Pharisee, forms the backdrop to Paul’s theology; the theology which we see worked out and articulated in his letters to the early churches.
And so, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, we see where his thinking has led him when he draws direct parallels between Moses and the Israelites, and those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Instead of the glory of the Lord being hidden by a veil, that veil has been torn in two and removed – by the life and work of Jesus Christ. There is now direct access to God, for all people and for all time:
“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.”
For all of us… both individually, and corporately as Christ’s church; people of every nation, race, colour, culture, context, age, gender, sexuality…you name it.; everybody here, for all time – for eternity…
the hidden light source has been revealed
We now have unveiled faces… which means that there is nothing that stands in the way of humankind accessing, seeing, beholding the glory of God. The veil has been taken away from our minds. And God wants to communicate with us, his people. Jesus has enabled this.
We see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror…that is, reflected in Jesus.
Christ, as divine Wisdom, is the mirror which reflects the glory of God to us. And we are being transformed into the same image… the image of Jesus, who is God.
Paul held the common ancient view that beholding the image of a supreme deity transformed one into that deity; and he saw that sort of transformation in Moses, who had seen God. So those of us who ‘see’ God, reflected to us by Jesus Christ, are being transformed - from one degree of glory to another.
All this happens by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord.
How would you say that you – or we, as a community – are being transformed into the image of God?
What is it about our life – or our lives together – which show the characteristics of God, as shown to us by Jesus?
How could we go about improving the possibility of transformation?
What steps could we take, practically or spiritually, to enable this process?
Because the whole point of this reality is to make known and proclaim Christ, however we do that; to reflect his glory to others; to invite them to know God; to show the compassion of God, to help make the path to God accessible – whatever that means in our own circumstances and in the circumstances that the church finds herself in.
Within society, within our personal lives, within communities.
The light source is no longer hidden.
God has reached out to humankind through Jesus.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to enable the transformation in us that leads to the reality of the kingdom of God on earth.
May we all, both individually and corporately, live in this reality in our lives; may we gaze upon the glory of God, as reflected in Jesus Christ; and may we see the changes that this brings about.