Faces. Veiled faces and unveiled faces. That’s the image threaded
through all three of our scripture readings that claims me this evening (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36). The glory of God shining unveiled from a human face. A face veiled to protect others. To reduce fear. To keep others from gazing at the end of a face’s glory. A veil set aside in Jesus the Christ of God. A veil removed so that the human person might stand before God in freedom and speak. Faces unveiled and veiled.
Now I know there’s much more to Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus. The mountain top. Peter, John, and James. Jesus praying. Moses and Elijah talking to him. Peter and his companions weighed down with sleep, but willing to make three dwellings. The cloud. The voice from the cloud. The disciples’ silence. Most important, maybe, Moses and Elijah speaking of Jesus’ departure and what he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. The glory of the mountain top is somehow all about the mud and the blood of the cross.
But there’s also less to Luke’s account. The gospels of Matthew and Mark both use a verb form of the Greek word metamorphosis, from which – by way of Latin – we get transfiguration. Luke’s account does not use “metamorphosis” at all. Instead, that little phrase our reading rendered as, “the appearance of his face changed.” Which turns on three Greek words: the eidos of his prosopon heteron.” The look of his persona was altered, to employ more familiar and intriguing Latin-based English. The look of his persona was altered. For me, that’s this evening’s gospel. Because the story crystalized in that little phrase does not just convey odd information about Jesus. It is for us. So that the look of our persona might be altered. We prayed in our collect “grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of Jesus’ countenance, may be…changed into his likeness from glory to glory” (BCP, 217). And Paul in our second reading offers this marvelous affirmation: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
I looked around for a visual image to help us engage our scripture readings more deeply, especially since all three focus on sight. There are lots of traditional icons of the transfiguration of Jesus out there. Wonderful icons and very important to the Eastern Orthodox churches. But I wanted something more contemporary and little edgy. I failed to find what I was looking for until a week ago Saturday, the night before the Oscars, when my wife Debra and I watched “A Star Is Born.” [Directed by Bradley Cooper. Produced by Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Philips, and Lynette Howell Taylor. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters. Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Warner Brothers Pictures, 2018.] This is the third time this movie has been made. Judy Garland first starred in it in the 1930s. Barbara Streisand in the 1970s. And now, Lady Gaga. The story tells of a male singer, past the prime of his career, who discovers a young woman, an unknown, with an amazing voice. He helps birth her singing career. They become romantically involved. But eventually, as her star shines brighter and brighter and overshadows him, he become more and more self-destructive.
In your hand, you have a photo of Lady Gaga at the Golden Globes two
months ago on one side of the sheet of paper and a still picture of her character Ally from “A Star Is Born” on the other. Of course, “Lady Gaga” is a persona – her parents christened her Stefani Joanne. Lady Gaga: a carefully constructed,widely marketed, and culturally potent persona. What intrigued me most about the movie is that in playing the unknown Ally, Lady Gaga is playing herself before her own star was born and before adopting the persona of Lady Gaga. And as the character Ally’s singing career begins to shine on screen, Ally adopts elements of Lady Gaga the actor’s off-stage persona. Ally’s hairstyle and colors grow more like Lady Gaga’s, as does her makeup and wardrobe and even her carriage and attitude.
Lady Gaga. Ally. Lady Gaga. The look of her persona was altered and then altered back again to what it was before. Which is the veiled face and which unveiled?
So, I wonder in what ways we lead veiled lives? Veiled from each other
and before God?
I wonder how these veils are set aside in Jesus the Christ of God?
And I wonder what your face and my face look like unveiled and changed
into Christ’s image and likeness from glory to glory?
I invite your responses…