Sunday, March 3, 2019
Transfiguration of Our Lord / Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Exodus 34:29-35 Coming down from Mount Sinai, Moses’ face shone
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 With unveiled faces we see the Lord’s glory as we are transformed
Luke 9:28-43a Jesus is transfigured on the mountain
Title: Climbing to Revelation
On this Transfiguration Sunday, when, each year, we hear of a most amazing mountaintop experience, it is always easy for me to focus on and invite calling to mind our own mountaintop experiences that feed our spirits, strengthen us for the valleys we know we must walk, renew our faith with an enhanced awareness of the presence of God. And it would be really easy to do this on this day when I am still holding on to the refreshment of our recent mountaintop experience of vacation that included all the wonders you would want in a mountaintop experience; well, except for the mountain itself. (We were at the beach.) But, of course, it would also be a bit cruel to harp on that ideal tropical experience, while so many have been sitting in the cold wishing for some warm weather relief. Not to mention that we wait for an impending storm.
But this year, perhaps encouraged by the poem that was read, perhaps well prepared by a satisfyingly long Epiphany season, perhaps because for some of us the walk through the valley just seems to be going on and on, I invite you to approach this mountaintop experience in a different way.
Speaking of the approach, our reading from Luke tells us that this event takes place eight days after some teachings of Jesus. Those teachings have to do with discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus. They include those famous lines about taking up our crosses and following, about giving up ones life to gain life. So we pick up the story directly after these teachings when Jesus invites his three closest friends to come up the mountain with him to pray. Numerous times Jesus has gone off by himself to pray. But this time he is inviting these three to join him. Did they question in their own minds why this time it was different? Was Jesus planning something different? Was there a different purpose to this retreat than the other solo get aways? We get no questions or words of protest from the disciples. Perhaps they would not have said anything even if there were questions since Jesus had just been talking about sacrifice and following him with our whole selves. Best for Peter, James, and John to just put on their hiking shoes and follow up the mountain.
Once there, the prayer meeting takes a very different tone. And Jesus is revealed in a way that he has never been revealed to his followers before. The voice from heaven that began this Epiphany season at the Baptism of our Lord – sounding out with “This is my son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased;” now at the end of our journey through the epiphanies of Epiphany is sounding out on the mountaintop with “This is my son, my Chosen, listen to him.” The one who has called us to follow, to sacrifice, to love without hesitation, to turn the world upside down with God’s justice and wisdom, is confirmed in our sight. The beloved son is transfigured, and the chosen savior is revealed in God’s glory that spans all time. This is the revelation that Jesus was inviting his disciples to witness when he invited them to climb with me. This is the glory and the truth that they needed to see before they would or could follow him into the depths of his passion.
We hear of Jesus’ desire to reveal the fullness of himself in the opening of the mystery play that depicts the Transfiguration that is included in the York Cycle from the middle ages. Jesus is speaking to the three who he has invited to come with him. He says:
Peter, my own disciple dear,
And James and John, my cousins two:
Take heartfelt heed, for you shall hear;
I’ll only tell these things to you.
And you shall see sundry sights here,
Which none shall see but you also.
Therefore, come forth and gather near;
To yonder mountain I will go.
There you will see a sight,
Which you have yearned for long.
Long you’ve coveted to ken,
My Father, for I set him before.
You knew full well, which time and when,
As we were going to Galilee’s shore.
“Show us your father,” you asked me then
“That would suffice us with no more.”
I said to you, and to all men,
“Who sees me, sees my father there.”
Such words I spoke, my friends,
In truth, to make you bold;
You could not comprehend
The tales that I then told.
Another time, to make increase
In truth, and teach you more of this,
I said, “Quem dicunt homines
Esse filium hominis?”
I asked you whom the people chose
As Son of Man, without a miss;
You answered, saying “Some, Moses,
And some say that Elijah he is,
And some say John Baptist.”
Then more, I questioned yet;
I asked you if you guessed
Who I was, by your wit.
You answered, Peter, to your credit,
And said that I was Christ, God’s son.
Though by yourself, you guessed it not;
My father had this grace begun.
Therefore be bold, and bide you now,
Until you have my father found.
Today, let the light of Christ shine not just on the mountaintop, but also on the climb. Knowing that the faith we seek to have confirmed is planted and nourished by the work of the Holy Spirit. The faith to see the revealed Christ is not our work but is God’s gift. And the gift is strengthened as we climb, as we see Christ revealed as Messiah, as we see Christ present – yes, in those blessed mountaintop experiences, but also in the pain and darkness of the valley. Walking with us so that we need not fear. Revealed not just on the mountaintop of glory, but also on that hilltop of shame where – on the cross – the glory of God defeated all our efforts to dominate God and each other, defeated all efforts to separate us from God – even death.
Hear Jesus inviting us to climb with him, to behold his glory once again revealed, the glory of God’s grace, mercy and love – once revealed in the incarnation; now, for us, continually revealed in the water and the word, in the meal and in our fellowship, in our service and in our play.
This invitation to climb is not easily answered. The path is not always clear. We look down at the rocky way, search for the path, and don’t always keep our eyes on the one who calls us to follow. Paul likens it to the veil that Moses put on his face. While this passage from second Corinthians could, if read carelessly in isolation, could lead one to anti-Semitism and beliefs that God has rejected the people of the first covenant. For us who hear Christ’s call to follow, who find our salvation in him, we see that if we look to the law for our salvation and not to him, we will not see clearly the grace and glory that has been revealed in Jesus our Savior. We will put a veil over this understanding and seek to work out our justification through adherence to the law. I fear that the painful vote taken in the United Methodist Church this past week is another example of veiled vision that fails to see the fulness of God revealed in Christ in whom all are welcomed, all are justified, all are made right with God by grace through faith and not through acts of obedience to the law.
As we finish our Epiphany journey and begin our Lenten pilgrimage, commit yourself anew to the climb. Strengthening the gift of faith for the sake of seeing Christ – the glory of God, the face of God, the heart of God – seeing Christ unveiled and revealed on mountains and in valleys, revealed in the need of the other, revealed in the service with which you are gifted to give to the world, revealed in our diverse community of faith called to be a safe haven to all. A vision revealed, that we might also be astounded by the greatness of God, and share what we have seen with a searching world.
The Rev. Mark Erson,