Way back, a long, long time ago when I was married my bride wore a veil.
Veils were customary things for brides to wear and yet the tradition of the veil was not necessarily understood well.
You can trace the history of veils to thousands of years ago. The earliest use of them was to veil wealthy, status women as symbols of status and distance. Slaves, servants and poor women didn’t wear veils.
By Roman times brides wore veils supposedly to keep out evil spirits.
Christianity adopted veils and were signs of modesty and purity. Nuns wore different types of veils or head or face coverings.
For weddings the traditional white wedding dress and veil was supposedly a symbol of purity and the lifting of the veil, was a symbol of the new intimate relationship between husband and wife.
It was the custom many years ago, that people didn’t live together before marriage, so the unveiling was a metaphor for entrance into a new and deeper and more intimate relationship.
Supposedly it was Queen Victoria who wore a veil at her wedding, that helped make veils more popular.
We hear a lot about Muslim women who wear veils today. In Quebec today if you work for the provincial government, one is not allowed to wear a religious symbol and consequently, in the news a few weeks ago, a Muslim teacher lost her job in the classroom because she wore a hijab, which many think goes against the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion.
Some Muslim women wear a veil to protest against modern standards of beauty that demand a lot of exposure of skin.
Some wear the veil because downplaying sexuality limits sexual harassment. Some wear the veil as a sign of modesty. Some wear the veil to demonstrate submission to God and to remind themselves to hold fast to Islamic beliefs of honesty and service to others.
Some wear the veil because it demonstrates resistance to Western Imperialism, or it is a symbol of cultural or national identity.
We may forget that for centuries Christian women wore head coverings in church, a type of veil. When I was a child, a woman not wearing a hat in church might be considered “bad form” or a rebel, or even a loose woman.
These days it is sad to say that wearing a head covering like a hijab might actually provoke racial discrimination.
In the bible, at least at the time of the patriarchs, women might have worn veils on their wedding night, because as the story goes when Jacob got married, he found out that he had married the older sister Leah, who didn’t seem to be as graceful and beautiful as Rachel, the younger sister, whom he thought he was marrying.
And in our Old Testament Lesson today we have Moses going up the mountain and encountering God, and when he came down the mountain, supposedly his encounter with divine light made his face shine so brightly that he veiled his face.
The idea of something being veiled is that it is obscured in some way, that a person doesn’t have direct access to what is veiled.
And so, when a bride lifts her veil, it speaks now of the intimacy of the new relationship.
The unveiling is now access for the couple into the most intimate details of the other’s life.
In some way, I think that is what the transfiguration is about.
It is the unveiling of Jesus. The disciples who are there see Jesus unveiled, see Jesus in all Jesus glory, see the revelation of God in Jesus, see God when they see Jesus.
See the fullness of God’s love.
See the immeasurable grace.
See the universality of grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love.
See the inclusiveness of God.
See that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets as Elijah and Moses are there.
And there are two things I think that are very significant in this story.
The first is that that story starts with these words. Now about eight days after these things. What things?
They are eight days after Peter saying that Jesus is the Messiah.
They are eight days after Jesus telling the disciples that he will be crucified and on the third day be raised.
They are eight days after Jesus saying that if you want to follow him then, deny yourself and take up your cross.
And the second thing to note is that Moses and Elijah are there speaking with Jesus about Jesus departure which will happen in Jerusalem.
They are there talking about Jesus’ death.
The glory of the transfiguration is tied to the cross and resurrection.
The transfiguration is between the announcement of the cross and the cross.
And it is the cross and resurrection which is the ultimate unveiling of God, and the good news of the gospel, that God loves every one of us.
I don’t know about you, when you first saw the glory of God, the unveiling of Jesus, when you first understood that God loved you, that Jesus died to prove that love.
I was about thirteen when my eyes were opened. I always went to church. I would have said that there wasn’t a time when I didn’t think I was a Christian, but as a child, for me there was no relationship with God. I knew the stories of the bible, but I didn’t like going to church. I couldn’t say that I particularly had any faith, that I listened to sermons. Church was an obligation that I had to get through in order to do something else.
I am thankful for those early days of church, because seeds were planted, patterns were established, church wasn’t a scary thing or bad thing, and when I became a minister I went back to my roots in a mainline church, with the tradition of the mainline church…
…but it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I really started to develop faith, started to believe in Jesus, started to pray, started to understand I had a relationship with God.
Maybe it couldn’t sink in with me, until I reach Piaget’s Formal Operational Stage where adolescents and adults can start to think systematically and come up with theories and possibilities and consider concepts such as justice or equality or freedom.
But I can remember a specific instance, while I was talking with a Baptist minister about the music album that had just been released, Jesus Christ, Superstar, that I had an unveiling and I realized I believed in Jesus.
I confess at the time; I was really seeing through a glass darkly. My faith was about me being saved, and I pretty much thought most of the world was going to hell. I confess I was at times a self-righteous little Christian who had trouble seeing the log in his own eye.
But that was the first of many unveilings.
Through the years there have been many mountaintop experience where I experienced the love and grace of God, many times when I was awash with grace, or tears in my eyes after confession of sin, or filled with joy as the Holy Spirit filled me Christ.
The thing is that I have learned is that you don’t have to be on a mountaintop feeling amazing, basking in glory in light to have an unveiling.
Walking in the valley of the shadow of death is also an unveiling. Taking up your cross is also an unveiling.
Recognizing Christ in the hungry and needy is also an unveiling.
Loving an enemy is also an unveiling.
Sometimes a scripture will speak to you, or a sermon, or an anthem.
Sometimes having coffee with a friend can be an unveiling and you have a glimpse of the glory of God, the goodness of love and grace, the sense of being loved and accepted, even the days you don’t feel like you should be loved and accepted.
Any time the truth is spoken, there is an unveiling. Any time justice is done there is an unveiling.
Sure, we all like mountaintop experiences where the presence is awesome, the love is awesome, the spirit is awesome, the joy is awesome.
I know people and have known people whom to be in their presence is a mountaintop experience.
One dear saint of this church whom I used to visit, by the name of Helen, when I would go into the house, she would treat me like I was royalty, and make a cup of tea, and often raisin toast.
I could do no wrong in her presence. To her, I was the best thing since sliced bread. And to me, it was like being in the presence of God, the way she loved, cared and treated me like I was the prodigal son come home.
The occasional saint of the church is like walking through the valley of the shadow of death, with complaints and judgements and anger and frustration, and they cannot be pleased, and everything you do is wrong.
Fortunately, that is rare.
But maybe you know people, that to be in their presence is like being in the presence of Jesus, because there is so much love, joy, affection and hope.
It is a beautiful thing when someone unveils themselves to you, and what you see is Christ shining, and you know this person has been transfigured…
…changed to be like Christ.
…Shining with love and joy…
I love those experiences of mountaintops…
I am sure you do….
But the reality is that Christ is not just in the best and brightest…
Christ is in all of us, whom Paul describes as broken vessels, or cracked pots.
We who are the home for Jesus, are broken, are wounded, are hurt, are sinful, are prone to wander away from the green pastures, get lost and are frequently people of little faith.
And sometimes Jesus shines through the cracks and is unveiled amidst the broken, the sinful, the suffering, the grieving and the despairing.
Sometimes we are so broken, so cracked, so sinful that we actually veil the good news of Jesus.
Paul the apostle speaks about this in his second letter to the Corinthian church.
He talks about Moses whose face was so bright, that he put a veil over his face to obscure the brightness and then he goes on to talk about those who cannot see the gospel.
The gospel is veiled to them.
And while he mentions Jews, he is not referring only to Jews, but to all who for some reason, cannot see the glory of Christ, the glory of Christ’s love, the glory of unconditional love and limitless grace.
Paul’s words in chapter 4 of I Corinthians are these:
For if the gospel we preach is hidden, it is hidden only from those who are being lost. 4 They do not believe, because their minds have been kept in the dark by the evil god of this world. He keeps them from seeing the light shining on them, the light that comes from the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
There are people who cannot see Christ. They are in the dark. The gospel is veiled to them.
Paul uses the phrase the evil god of this world.
Some want to believe that is Satan… that it is a character from another realm…
… but I will suggest to you something else which just might be the evil God of this world…
The evil God of this world just might be your family, your culture, your group, your team, your peers, your co-workers, your religion, your denomination, your party, your philosophy, your social set…
Which demands your allegiance to the extent..
…that it veils from you the whole truth..
…that it veils from you love for the other, the different, the stranger or the enemy…
…that it veils from you, unconditional forgiveness, because it practices conditional forgiveness…
…that it veils from you amazing grace, because it believes in only those who are worthy, receive grace, which by definition is not grace.
Paul talked about the cultural mark of the Jews being circumcision and of the Gentiles uncircumcision, and then said that in Christ Jesus, those cultural markers don’t mean anything. There is no circumcision or uncircumcision.
Any time our culture or group take precedence over unconditional love, amazing grace, universal acceptance, non-judgement, non-violence, forgiveness and truth, then the god of this world is actively veiling the gospel from us and others.
Any time our family, group, culture, work, team, politics even religion or denomination takes precedence over Christ then the god of this world is actively at work and we are living in darkness and spreading darkness.
In Iran some women unveil and take off the hijab and are arrested for throwing off what they think is cultural and religious oppression.
In other parts of the world women put on a veil for various, religious, cultural and personal reasons.
But what Christ has come to tell is that whether you choose to veil part of yourself, or unveil yourself, physically, emotionally or spiritually, that you are loved by God, and that God is not forcing you to be other than your true self.
And part of your true self is to love and be loved.
Today I invite you to various forms of unveiling.
The first is to unveil yourself to God in prayer. To dig deep into your own life and talk about hopes, dreams, failures, sins, and deep stuff that you don’t like to talk about, and stuff you don’t like to share.
The second is to unveil your prejudices, your biases, the ways you have been brought up to think and examine them to see if you are consciously or subconsciously veiling the gospel.
The third is to think about your authentic self, your true self and see how much of that is veiled. Do you hide the “you” inside because you think you will not be accepted, loved, included or welcomed? Do you play a false role or put on masks to get ahead financially or socially?
Where are the safe places, and who are the people with whom you can unveil and be your true self? How can you be your real, true self more in public?
Fourthly, think about how you can always be doing the job of unveiling the truth in a world where there is so much propaganda, so much false advertising, so many conspiracy theories, so many lies.
And finally, our job is to join with Jesus in unveiling the glory and brightness of God, that God is love, and in God there is no darkness at all.
That God forgives and is merciful. That we can join with God in service to others.
And that God loves you and the person sitting next to you, and the person next door to you, and the person in the country next to you, and the person who has the opposite opinion from you, and the person who has a different religion from you.
That God loves not only oppressed Ukrainians, but Russian soldiers.
That God loves the women who want to veil, and the women who want to unveil.
This is the unveiling today, the truth the cross proclaims: That God loves everyone and wants us all to be transfigured to loving one another.