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Veils Over Our Hearts

Moses descended the mountain radiating glory. “The skin of his face shone” (Exodus 34:29). Qā-ran - in Hebrew - no dim glow but the brilliant light of the sun or the flashing lightning of a storm. He had spent forty days face to face with God. As the moon reflects the sun’s light, heaven’s grandeur burned within the prophet. His glory was beautiful and terrible, so the people feared to look up at him. Their eyes were too dull. They could only converse with Truth when it was covered up with a veil. So we spend our lives, wearing veils over our eyes, walking along blind and deluded.

Our gospel today is a gospel about blindness.

“Which of you convicts me of sin?” Jesus asked. The intensity has turned up in Jerusalem. Rumors are everywhere. Haters have spread their malice and the Sanhedrin plots his death. The closer he gets to Golgotha, the more Christ reveals his nature, and the more the world reacts.

“If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God.”

“You have a demon!” the people responded.

Christ continues: “I know [God] and I keep his word…Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

“Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:46-59).

Everyone had been talking about Jesus. Some said he was a prophet, some a magician, others a fraud. The moment came when Christ revealed himself. “Who are you?” they demanded. “I am that I am.” “I am Yahweh.” “I am the eternal one.” He pulled off the veil. He shown in his glory. A light switch came on in the room and the atmosphere changed instantly. All these people had seemed pious and righteous before. The were good ordinary citizens. No one would have thought they were capable of evil, just as we feel about ourselves. But in the burning light of God, their true colors came out. They gnashed their teeth. They spat. Anger and murder burned in their hearts.

Then Christ vanished.

We think we know a lot nowadays, with all our science and technology. A good scientist is quick to point out how false that is. We hardly know anything. We are about as blind to the universe as a mole in sunshine. In fact, we share a lot in common with the moles — digging about in dirt and shadows. Our hearts are smothered by layer upon layer of veils. Our spiritual eyes are covered up by these veils, and we hardly see reality at all.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).

The Gospel is not overly pessimistic when it refers to our world as darkness. The atheists ridicule Christians because they say, if there were a God, He should show himself. But God does show Himself, in everything, everywhere, at every moment. We are too dull sighted to see. Choked up in delusion, blinded by self-interest and egoism, we stumble about in a world of fog.

How would we react if we stood face to face with God?

It is easy to think we would be happy. Skeptics assume they could begin to believe. Sinners feel they will repent. Yet, the prospects do not look good. When God did appear on earth, earth rose up to kill him. The people did not want to look at the light shining from Moses’ face. They did not want to look at the light of Christ either. The human heart prefers to hide from God.

“Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:46-59).

Passion Sunday comes two weeks before Pascha.

We are left to sit a while in darkness. What is a church without icons? It feels empty and void. What is life without heaven? It is barren and forsaken. The veils help us to look at the condition in our hearts. What veils are we wearing? What barriers have we put up in our lives?

How do we stand before God?

In the old times, a widow wore a black veil for a year. The veils helped a widow to walk through her grief and process the imminence of death. This is still continued in Orthodox cultures, where widows often wear black for the rest of their lives, embracing a kind of monastic vocation. Priests veil themselves in black for a similar purpose. The ordination vows call the clergy to a life of looking face on at death. The veil reminds us of the day of judgment, and pricks the conscience of passersby. The day Christ hung on the cross, the sky itself wore a veil of black. All creation mourned. All of heaven shouted out to earth, be quiet now, look at yourself, how are you living?

Today, the church herself dons a veil. We have two more weeks of Lent. We are tired of fasting by now. We are tired of avoiding entertainment and looking at our sins. But we need this time. These remaining weeks are the most urgent part of the fast. We must go deeper now into our heart, deeper into our struggles, deeper in our repentance. Christ is coming. Will we be ready?


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