Friday, August 6, 2010

Feast of the Transfiguration

The Pentateuch ends rather anticlimactically. As a cohesive narrative, the five books of the law could be read as the life of Moses rather than the history of Israel: after Genesis sets the background for the nation and how they got into Egypt, Exodus begins with the birth of Moses and Deuteronomy ends with his death.

Moses reluctantly accepts his calling to lead the people out of slavery, brings them out of Egypt with many wonders, enters the cloud of smoke on Sinai to receive the books of the law, leads the people to the Promised Land only to have them rebel, intercedes for them when God wants to wipe them out, and wanders through the wilderness with them for forty years. Then in Deuteronomy he delivers his farewell speech as they prepare to enter, walks Mt Nebo to look on the land, dies there, and is buried by the Lord in an unknown grave.

Though we know that the people do enter the land in the book of Joshua, as far as Moses is concerned (and as far as the Pentateuch is concerned), it ends there. The great work is left unfinished, unaccomplished, and the people are never at rest—not after Joshua conquers the land, not under the judges, certainly not under Saul, not even under David himself. The land is never at peace, though prophets continue to call out:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, “They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.”
As I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95)
Today, however, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Christ takes his disciples up a mountain like the one on which Moses died with his work unaccomplished, on which Elijah hid ingloriously as he was hunted like a criminal after his victory over the prophets of Baal. Mountains are a place where God appears to prophets, but they are also a place of refuge in defeat.

And there on that mountain in the presence of Christ, Moses enters the Promised Land. The long awaited time of rest has come in the arrival of the Messiah who would proclaim from the height of his apparent defeat, “It is finished,” before he himself rested in the tomb on the Sabbath day. Christ reveals today what remained unfinished after 40 years in the wilderness, the elusive kingdom that brings rest for the people of God.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:8-10
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest...


Tim Shaw said...

Thanks for this thoughtful posting; so the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. Tabor) is also thought to be the burial mount of Moses? Mount Nebo in Moab (see Deut. 34:1). . .

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspiring Scriptural / liturgical essays - blogworthy devotional material.

Tee Jay

I follow you here in the Google Blogger area

Em the luddite said...

I didn't mean to imply that they were the same mountain... I rather like the idea better if they are not: Moses who "did not receive the things promised but saw them from a distance and welcomed them" at Mt Nebo eventually enters the Promised Land when Christ comes.

Thanks for following my blog--it's great to meet some other bloggers with similar passions!