A lovely morning for an eclipse! In a couple of hours from now, from 8.45 am we have the perfect weather for this astronomical event (although there is still time for it to cloud over!).
I well remember going down to Torbay to watch the total eclipse there on 11 August 1999 and our next one is on 12 August 2026. It may be my advanced age but it seems that for all of my life I have been waiting for an eclipse and just like the buses, three come at once.
Of course, we need to be careful and guard our eyes. Normal sunglasses are not only useless but actively dangerous, such is the intensity of the sun’s rays even after 150million kms.
It’s the same with God.
As God says to Moses “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20). To say the very least, you cannot simply stroll into God’s presence and expect to survive the encounter, such is his awesome holiness.
So God places Moses in a cleft of the rock as his Glory passes by. So God says “I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:22)
Witness the final scene of the 1981 epic “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Our hero is lashed to a pole as the Nazis begin to open the ark of the covenant. “Marion,” he cries out: “don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens!” Here is a clear reference to director Stephen Spielberg’s orthodox Jewish heritage. Indiana and Marion survive the encounter; their captors melt like wax before a furnace.
The apostle Paul picks up this theme from the Hebrew scriptures as he writes in his first letter to Timothy. The Message translation gives his words a North America vibrancy: “He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honour to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes.” (6:16).
To say the least, you don’t mess with God. We live in a culture in which God is not just ridiculed but worse, patronised. His name has become an intensifier. There is simply no understanding of the third commandment of honouring the name of God. We need shock therapy.
And there can be no greater shock that to witness a public execution.
So the apostle Paul shows his Corinthian readers the glory of God. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Notice how he uses the Jewish way of talking about God, keeping him at a safe distance so to speak – “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” Here human language honours the reality of God, his honour and his holiness.
And where is this glory to be seen? In the face of Jesus Christ, a face smeared with blood and distorted by pain, the spit of his executioners still evident, the bruising of his beating beginning to show.
It is as if God takes his hand away from Moses face to show this face of our crucified Christ. And in a very real way, we cannot look at this face and live. We are looking at our own death, that is the death of the old self-centred, self-serving and self-regarding me.
But as we are called to share in the death of Jesus, so God summons us to participate in his resurrection. This is an incredible offer and we can begin to glimpse just what it means once we understand just who God is, not a harmless old man in the sky but the creator of a universe with countless billions of suns.
So this morning we can pray with Anselm of Canterbury, one of Justin’s earliest predecessors: “Lord God, I am dazzled at the brightness of your light!”