Psalm 80:1-3; 14-18; Matthew 17:9-13
In the psalm appointed for today the psalmist prays, “Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” Psalm 80 begins and ends with that phrase: “Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” The countenance is reflected in the face of a person. It’s more than just physiology; the countenance is the window of the soul, how the essence of a person is expressed, and how the essence of a person is accessed: through their countenance. The countenance is the channel, in and out. This same phrase about the countenance shows up repeatedly in the psalms and elsewhere in the scriptures. (1) And we also see a reflection of this in this Gospel lesson we’ve just heard. Jesus is with his disciples on the mountaintop where he is visited by God’s Spirit and Jesus is becomes a changed man. How do his disciples know? The look on Jesus’ face: his countenance is absolutely transfigured with light.
Long before the psychologists had named “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) for how some of us suffer in the bleak mid winter, when there’s not enough light on our faces, the sages of old had figured this out by experience. Our countenance is the portal to the soul: how the essence of a person’s soul is expressed and accessed.
You might find it meaningful to pray with this image of the light of God’s countenance enlightening your own countenance. There’s several ways:
- If your normal posture for prayer is to bow your head and close your eyes, do just the opposite. Lift up your face and open your eyes. Gaze on something that is beautiful, perhaps an icon, or on something that is “iconic,” that teems with the glory of God’s creation: a rose, a towering tree, a piece of art. Take in the beauty to remind you of the beauty that you are.
- You might want to pray by lifting your face and closing your eyes, allowing some light to shine on your countenance: a lighted candle, an electric light, the light of the sky. In the beginning, when God created the heavens in the earth, light is the very first thing that God creates. (2) Light. In the absence of light we are in darkness, and that is as true for the sky as it is for the soul. Take in the light, which is God’s creation.
- And thirdly, receive this image of the light of God’s countenance looking on you tenderly, compassionately, hopefully, lovingly. If there is some part of you that seems quite dark, you need not be afraid of God’s light. God is fully enlightened about who you are and what you are why you are as you are. Which is the point of Jesus who comes to set us free from our very dark prisons. (3) Let the light of Jesus’ countenance shine upon you.
Jesus puts a face to God. Jesus faces us with compassion and love.
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.” (4)
- Psalm 4:6; 31:16; 44:3; 67:1; 80: 3, 18; 119:135.
- Genesis 1:1-5.
- Luke 4:16-19, from Isaiah 61:1-3.
- Numbers 6:24-26.
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