On the Lutheran calendar, the Sunday before Ash is a celebration of the mystery of Christ, as Jesus’ divinity is shown forth on the Mount of Transfiguration. The three-year lectionary cycle sets the Transfiguration as the climax of the time after the Epiphany, a final glorious manifestation of the mystery of Jesus Christ before the season of Lent.
The transfiguration is frustrating for disciples—past and present—who long for an unmediated experience of God. Jesus’ glory is revealed, and then, just as suddenly, a cloud descends and the vision fades. And even though Paul contrasts the Christian’s experience of God with Moses’s veiled experience of God, he notes that we see the glory of the Lord “as though reflected in a mirror” (2 Cor. 3:1-18). Even with unveiled faces, we don’t see directly, or even clearly. Even when God is revealed in shining glory, much remains veiled and hidden.
As he witnesses Jesus’ transfiguration, (Luke 9:28-43a) Peter’s understanding remains veiled; ours does too. The glimpses we get of God’s glory—through the veil or reflected in the mirror—are expectation-shattering, alarming, overwhelming, and awesome. The love of God shines too brightly to view directly, and yet we do have the privilege of directly experiencing that love in baptism, in communion, in service to God, and in relationship with God’s creation and our neighbours in need. The veils we contend with daily are the barriers that prevent us from truly loving those neighbours, caring for creation, and seeing the shining face of Jesus in the faces of people who are different, hungry, difficult, enemy, invisible, or poor. God is always revealed in ways that surprise and confuse us, whether shining on the mountaintop or dying on the cross.