Exodus 34:29-35, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone . . .”
Luke 9:28-36, “And while [Jesus] was praying, his appearance changed . . .”
This upcoming Sunday is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday in many of our churches. And to be sure, there is something different about Jesus after the transfiguration, after this exalting change that happens. That’s what transfiguration means anyhow, a thoroughgoing change, a change in form, and the type of change to where that thing or person changed is different than it was before.
And what is implied when we think about that thoroughgoing change is that with whatever happened, that the new is better, exalted, wonderful. That is what we read in Luke’s gospel and in this passage about Moses coming down off of that mountain with his face all aglow, the something that had changed was wonderful . . .
But you know what is scandalous in this passage about Moses is that this is not the first time Moses has been up this mountain. This is Plan B. Plan A was when Moses went up the mountain the first time, climbing up that Mountain called Sinai.
It couldn’t have been an easy climb the first time. We read that there was lots of smoke and fire and Moses was up there an awful long time. Maybe it took a while to chisel all ten commandments into those tablets of stone that he brought down from Mount Sinai the first time around.
Moses and God were up there a long time together. Meanwhile, while God was speaking all of those words, there were the people down at the bottom of the mountain. And like many of us, the people at the bottom of the mountain got restless.
After all, they are down there just waiting. Moses had led them out of the land of Egypt, a good thing to be sure! But it has not been an easy journey. There were times when they were thirsty and hungry. But now they have made it! The moment has come! They have covenanted with God to be God’s people and God has covenanted with the people to be their God. It’s like getting married in a way. For better or worse, right?!
Moses said he’d be right back, but it’s been a while now.
So while Moses is up on the mountain the first time, the people got restless. They called to Aaron, their priest. “Aaron, make us a golden calf. Here, take our rings and our necklaces and whatever we have. Melt it down. Make it into a golden calf.” They were saying that they could not wait on Moses. They could not wait on God. That if anything was going to happen around here, by golly, they were going to accomplish it. They needed visible leadership, something tangible, something they could touch and see. They needed something solid and stable, and gold! A golden calf!
And this is not what God had intended. This was not according to the plan. The plan was for the people to come out to the wilderness, covenant with God, move to the land of milk and honey, that promised land. This was how Plan A was supposed to work. But it didn’t.
And God got mad.
And Moses tried to calm God down. And then when Moses came down the mountain, just like a parent who walks into the living room to find that the children have marked crayon all over the walls, Moses was not happy either. In fact, he threw down the tablets. He threw down the law of God that God had just given him . . . I guess in the end part of that was anger, part of that was exasperation, part of that was the belief that this law isn’t worth anything anyway if this is the kind of people that are here to follow it. So much for Plan A.
That was the first time around.
Do you know what it is like to have Plan A not work out and to move on to Plan B? Do you know what it is like when the person who you thought you were going to be, what you thought you were going to do changes? Our Plan As tend to get thought up when we are still in high school, for some of us college. Plan As having us being successful in whatever it is we most love to do. Plan As have us getting that beautiful girl or handsome guy. Plan As are where you thought you would be in 10 years.
And Plan As have a way of not happening.
Plan A is where we send our military into Iraq, we find the weapons of mass destruction, we oust Saddam, and we set up a thriving democracy before we get to the 11 o’clock news. Plan A didn’t happen so smoothly. So even as a country, we move to Plan B. We take a look around and say what do we do now . . . who should we be now . . . how do we pick up some of these pieces and make something out of it.
It is a fundamental shift from looking at the difficulty that may lie ahead, seeing that honestly, and choosing to do what needs to be done, not focusing on what went wrong.
I wonder if this is what God and Moses talked about up there, that second go round on the mountain.
God invited Moses back up the mountain, after Moses had thrown down the original law on the ground, breaking it to pieces. God invites Moses back. And Moses writes down what God says.
And Moses writes of a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love, love that does not fail, love that will always be there no matter what, love that will be there no matter if we are on Plan B or Plan C or Plan whatever. Moses encounters a God who forgives, despite all that has gone before. Moses sees the wonderful grace and mercy of this God firsthand . . . and when he comes back down the mountain, he is positively glowing, shining with this vision of God.
But why is Moses glowing? The people had failed right? All of the plans that Moses and God had made didn’t work out like they were supposed to. Don’t you get bent out of shape when things don’t go the way that you think they are supposed to go? Does it feel like failure to you when things don’t happen the way that you planned?
I heard about a very informal survey of folks, a roomful of one hundred people who were asked if they were still living their plan A. Out of the hundred, only one person raised their hand, and that was the youngest one in the bunch; she hadn’t had time for life to happen and her path to go a way that she did not expect. Everyone else in that room of 100 were a bit stunned at the question and said things like, “What about Plan D or E or M or Q?” Which plan are you on?
We may laugh but there is a part of us that believes that that first plan, the one that we had when we were so young, the one that some of us still hold on to, that that was the best plan.
Sometimes we look back and think about those “good ole days” and how if everything had just worked out the way it was supposed to work out.
And the truth is this, maybe this is the way that things were supposed to work out, despite the hurt and pain along the way, both the hurt and the pain that we felt, the hurt and the pain that we have caused, we have to look at the here and now with the eyes of God, the eyes of forgiveness and mercy and grace. God’s eyes do not see the failure of the past; God sees such hope for the future, for all of you. This may be Plan B or C or D for some of you, but this just might be where God wants you.
When we think about transfiguration, it is not just Jesus changing in some profound and inexplicable way. This event that we read about in the gospels, this time in Jesus’ life comes after he predicts that he will die.
This is not exactly at the top of anyone’s Plan A-list.
And Jesus would struggle with this again at the Garden of Gethsemane, and who knows, maybe he struggled with it all of the way to the cross. But Jesus embraces this call, embraces his own divinity, embraces his own Godness and allows that to shine to the world, that light of forgiveness, the light of God’s mercy and love and grace.
As we prepare for our Lenten journeys, our own journeys of preparation, of self-examination, as we journey toward Easter and through the cross, know that the road is not easy, but maybe right here and right now is where God wishes for you to be.
It is your job to grab hold of this present, this gift that is the present, shining with the light of God’s love and grace.