THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
A commentary on Exodus 24.12-18
By Rev. David Rommereim
Transfiguration Sunday, marks the end of the Epiphany season. Every Sunday since Christmas, we have looked at the wonder and majesty of God. We have remembered the miraculous birth of Jesus and the angels' close watch over the holy family. We have heard about the visit of the Magi. We have stood in awe at Jesus’ Baptism. Now it is time to move on; we are prepared to begin Lent.
The community of faith has always been fond of mountains, especially in the stories of Matthew and Moses. Today's texts give us an image of faith as a "mountain top experience." Such an experience is often difficult to talk about. The indescribable encounter with God is best expressed in actions. Therefore, we understand this as 'life changing.' Exodus 24.12-18 describes Moses' meeting with God on a mountaintop. Mark 9.2-9, Matthew 17.1-9, and Luke 9:28-36 describes Jesus’ metamorphosis and meeting with Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop as God speaks from the cloud announcing Jesus as His Son.
Exodus 24.12-18 (See also Exodus 34.29-35)
Exodus 24.12-18 begins with God calling Moses to a mountain meeting. Remember that God initiated this meeting, not Moses (v. 12). God wants to meet with Moses to present the tablets that hold the Ten Words that became known as the Ten Commandments. It is a core teaching of the Law/Torah to Moses and the people. Moses knows that he must obey immediately.
Moses, known as Moshe in the Hebrew text, is aware that he is embarking on a dangerous mission. A Divine encounter is always dangerous work. It is frightening and inspiring at the same time. To that end, Moses brings with him Joshua. Joshua is aligned to be the heir as leader. Joshua represents the future generation of the people of Israel. Moses also brings with him on this initial journey to the mountain, the “elders." Specifically, seventy elders. They are the trusted leaders of this wandering, burgeoning tribal confederacy. Then, at the time of the actual Divine encounter, Moses must face God alone.
At the time of the meeting, Moses is alone on the mountain. His advisers are close enough to bring comfort, but cannot interfere. Moses waits alone in silence for six days. He hears nothing. We learn that God will not be rushed. Nor is God seemingly patient. The meeting is on God's terms at God's pace for God's purposes. Moses has only the terms of showing up. God will do the rest.
On the seventh day, Moses hears sound coming from a huge mysterious cloud. Out of that cloud comes God's Voice, which Moses cannot disregard.
This text shows that the revelation of God is never casual or incidental. Even the splendor of God is not directly revealed. There is always a cloud. Clouds and sounds make everything about God mysterious, threatening, and beyond reach. It is in the cloud God ushers in a doxology, or glory. Moreover, Moses has minimal interaction with a host of personal and physical possibilities: fear, joy, blessing, curse, hope, despair, peace, and awe. Most likely, he moves gingerly to the future.
What does God say to Moses during this mountain top meeting? We do not know. What did the Voice sound like? Like our own experience with God, we know it only in the event itself. God cannot be defined. Yet, our experiences with God happen in the event.
We only know what Moses does after this "mountain top experience." He delivers the Torah, which contains the principles of the covenant between God, the human community, and the earth. After a revelation like this, perhaps a person is more likely to respond with actions, as Moses does. So, after God speaks, we are not told of Moses' words or thoughts. We know only that he stays in the wild for forty days and forty nights. It was a long time to be cut off from his community, alone in the demanding presence of God. We do not know the story of those days, but what we do know is that Moses has indeed met God and because of that meeting and Moses' subsequent actions, and the events themselves, nothing will ever be the same.
God's communication with Moses and the people of Israel is the center of this Exodus text. It is central to Moses’ experience, and the center of Israel's faith in the same way any encounter with the event of God remains at the center of your faith.
On Sunday, we will read this passage at our Transfiguration Sunday worship; the Sunday before Lent begins. Because of this story, we may be invited to wait, listen, and remember that God's revelation cannot be owned by anyone. It is God’s. Our job is simply to listen. After a time of listening, we are called to act. Moses reminds us of this fact because he does not control the conversation, the experience nor the timing of God's voice. Yet, he receives the Ten Words and passes them along as a gift of hope to a struggling people.
Moses followed, waited, put his life in order, and then set his course. He has been a good model for the people of faith. He became a prophetic hero that even Jesus revered.
In your faith journey the mountaintop is often a symbol for the renewal of meaning. This weekend we are encouraged to remember the terrible awe of God's presence. Nevertheless, after that we are led into the renewal of our minds through worship, meditation, and prayer. Because of this, we are led to plan for continual renewal through opportunities for spiritual and physical renewal.
Lent begins that journey to reconnect our lives with meaning and diligence, gratitude and hard work.
Pastor David H. Rommereim