Face Coverings

Exodus 34:29-35
David A. Davis
February 27, 2022
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It probably would have been much easier if the shine, the shine described as coming from the face of Moses; it would probably be a lot clearer if the shine was coming from the tablets. If that glow described in Exodus 34 was not coming from the face of Moses but from the stone tablets themselves. A stone tabled version of the burning bush. When the bush was burning yet not consumed, when the voice came from the burning bush calling to Moses, it all came with a kind of clarity with regard to the holiness, the glory of God. “Take your shows off this is holy ground… I am who I am.” A relationship to God would be easier, I guess, if one could be certain, if one could see and point to the holiness and glory of God.

After all, that’s what Peter was trying to do, that’s Peter was trying preserve up there on the mountain of Transfiguration. He was pulling for the obvious, wanting Jesus to just stay up there in all his glory. Jesus with his face changed and his clothes dazzling white. Jesus there with Moses and Elijah. Do you think Moses’ face still shone? They all appeared in glory and Peter said, “Master, this is good; right here, this…this is good. I can see your glory. Your lineage. You as teacher and prophet. Let’s stay here where it is all so clear, so apparent, so radiant”. But basking before the crystal-clear glory of Christ Jesus was but a fleeting moment. Just down the mountain, Jesus points all the way to Calvary and his suffering and death. The mystery of God’s veiled glory there on the cross.

The shine on Moses’ face came after his second trip down from Mt. Sinai with an armful of commandments. This was the mulligan. The do-over. The first time Moses came down carrying the tablets that had writing on both sides; described in scripture as the work of God, the writing of God, the first time Moses came down with the law in hand, he heard the noise of war in the camp. It was not the sound of victors or the cry of losers but the sound of revelers. Moses saw the golden calf and all the dancing. Moses, his anger burned hot, and he threw down the work of God, breaking the tables there at the foot of Mt Sinai.

In the aftermath, Moses had a heart to heart with Aaron. Moses put the people to the test: “Who is on the Lord’s side?” And it was an inexplicably violent act of cleansing that took place next with brothers and sons falling to the sword. Moses told the people he would go back up to the Lord hoping to make atonement for their sin. And after some negotiations between Moses and the Lord, after a plague, after the tent of meeting and the pillar of cloud that would descend, after (as the bible says) the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend, after Moses asked to see God’s glory and God told him he could not see God’s face but only God’s backside as God covered Moses with God’s hand, Moses protected in the cleft of a rock,  after all of that, the Lord told Moses to try again. “Cut two tablets of stone, like the old ones and I will write the words that were on the ones you broke. Be ready in the morning and come on up with the stones.” Moses was up on Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights with nothing to eat or drink. And the Lord again wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments, the ten words.

As Moses came down the mountain the second time with the two tables, the life of faith would probably be a bit more cut and dried if the shine as coming from the tablets themselves, from the writing of God. If the shine came from the writing of God, the people could point to and see the holiness and glory of God right there in stone. And forever more, to perceive, to get a glimpse of God’s glory the people could just hang the tablets in holy places or public places, pay them homage and call it a day. A relationship to God would be easier, I guess, if one could be certain, if one could see and point to the holiness and glory of God.

But it was the skin on Moses’ face that was shining, shining because he had been talking with God. With tablets in hand, Moses’ didn’t know his face was shining but Aaron and all the Israelites could see the shine, even from a distance. With that shine on his face, the people were afraid to come near. Moses called to them and when they came near Moses “gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.” It was after he finished speaking that he put on a face covering. Whenever Moses went in to speak with God, he would take his face covering off. When he came out and told the people what God has said, they could see his face. They could see the shine. After he told them what God had said, then he would put the veil back on. The text doesn’t say, doesn’t imply, that they were afraid again every time they could see his face. But when he wasn’t speaking of what God had said, Moses would cover his shining face again. So, his face covering was for the benefit, for the care, for the faith of the people God. If it wasn’t simply about their fear, perhaps it was not to distract from the holiness, the glory of God. Moses was one telling the people all that God had spoken to him, but the glory belongs to God, not Moses. The shine comes from God, not Moses.

Yet the shine was not the tables, it was on the face of Moses. With that shining face, Moses gave the people just a glimpse of the glory God. Moses carried in his being something of his encounter with the Living God. With that downright mysterious glow coming from his face, Moses cannot really hide the notion that he had been transformed by the presence of God Almighty. With that face, Moses stands as a reminder that our life in God is never just about the mind, or just about the heart, or just about the spirit. God working in and through us takes bodily form. You feel it. You taste it. You breath it. With that shine, Moses embodies the affirmation that encounters with God aren’t just reserved for mountaintops. That in the complex and cloudy reality of everyday life, God goes with us. A relationship to God would be easier, I guess, if one could be certain, if one could see and point to the holiness and glory of God. But in the wisdom and grace of God, we shall be blessed to experience fleeting moments in us and in others. A glimpse of God’s glory in the lives of those transformed by the Living and Loving God. Yes, in the brokenness of our humanity, there comes this shine, these snippets of glory. A glory revealed in fits and starts. A shine that so easily fades. But it is God’s glory nonetheless, a glory that is the face of Christ in and through the likes of you and me…rather than those stones.

At the end of along week when images of war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine scream from all of our devices, a week where the world seems like it got even heavier than it has felt for the last few years, I find myself once again craving just a glimpse of God’s glory, craving to remember those moments, those encounters with the likes of you and me when there was a bit of shine. You might not know that when our small groups meet, Corrie Berg often has a small group of kids who talk about the same passages we are studying in small groups, adult education and encountering in our preaching life. Last fall one of the texts was the story of Esau and Jacob and their tear-filled embrace of reconciliation after years of a shattering relationship that went far beyond sibling rivalry.  As Corrie told the story to her small group it became clear that not everyone knew how the story ended. And when she told of the embrace, when she described that moment of grace and reconciliation, an audible gasp could be heard. A young person’s unrestrained reaction to the unexpected grace of God made known in that embrace. Being moved, touched, experiencing again or for the first time, a testimony to our reconciling God. Corrie didn’t say, but I bet there were some shining faces.

As you heard this morning, Nancye Fitzpatrick is celebrating her 100th birthday this weekend. Nancye’s dear husband Jim passed away in 2016. One afternoon a few weeks before his death, he and I were sitting at the dining room table after the noon meal. Nancye left the room to give us some space in case Jim wanted to just talk to his pastor. During that conversation we talked about eternity, about heaven. “I know people get all worked up about what to believe and they have trouble with this scripture or that”, Jim said. “It doesn’t seem to me to be all that complicated. For me it all comes down to, the gospel all comes to down to love. The promise is God’s everlasting love. That’s enough for me,” Jim said. “I don’t need any more than that”.  I think about that conversation a lot and what Jim Fitzpatrick revealed to me that day about the everlasting love of God. Looking back, I think his face was shining.

Back in January, Lauren McFeaters and I shared with you the death of Margie Olmeda. I have known Margie for years. Many in Princeton knew Margie. She spent most days and nights at the dinky station and at the Wawa. She also spent a lot of time across the street on Palmer Square. Margie didn’t have an easy life and struggled with many challenges. Every so often Margie would stop by the church. Sometimes looking for gift card or a bit of help. More often, just to chat with me. One afternoon long before the pandemic, we sat in my office. Margie had a clarity of thought and speech that day that I didn’t often see. She came to ask for a bible in the King James. It wasn’t easy but staff members were able to find one for me to give her. At one point a look of shame and guilt came upon Margie’s face. “Pastor Dave, I am not a good person. What is God going do with me?” “Margie, Margie, why would you say that”. “Well, for thing, I drink.” I responded, “Well, Margie, I drink too” “Pastor Dave” she bellowed with a look of shock. “Margie, God loves you and me no matter what we do, whether we drink or not.” Tears start streaming down her face and Margie asked, “So you think God will forgive me?” I said, “Margie, I know God forgives you.” And a smile on her face joined her tears. And a few minutes later, as Margie, my homeless friend from the Wawa, got up to leave, she said, “Thank Pastor Dave. Can I give you a hug?” And we embraced. It was one of the holiest conversations I have ever had. And to watch the face of someone be assured, in real time, and as if for the very first time of God’s forgiveness, well, I saw a shine in Margie’s tears, a shine in Margie’s face that day.

The truth is, in our relationship with God, in the life of faith, by grace of Jesus Christ our Savior, you and I can see and point to the holiness and glory of God. As Jesus would say, “for those who have eyes to see.” And the shine was never in the stones.

Thanks be to God.