February 23, 2020
Last Sunday after Epiphany
It was so good to return to sunny Lopez…what happened this morning? At six o’clock, as Teddy was beginning to stir, the wind blew, the rain fell and I found myself outside with two very unhappy Tibetan spaniels. Only yesterday we were running and playing in the garden, today, we are outside in a freezing rain with the wind howling.
This is a bit of the metaphor for today’s gospel from Matthew, his version of the Transfiguration. Six days earlier, in response to the question, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Peter, always the optimist, sees sunny skies ahead for this teacher. When Jesus then offers the first of three predictions of his passion, Peter resists, “God forbid it, Lord!” And Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan.” Poor Peter, setting his mind on human things. In this moment, the first glimpse of stormy weather is seen.
Today, we find this same Everyman — Peter off on a mountaintop adventure with Jesus, James and John. In Matthew’s telling, and, as is often the case with Matthew, Peter is again the foil. This moment of transfiguration, often considered to be a resurrection appearance — is the moment that challenges us all — for, like Peter, we want the sunny story, the easy path, the mountaintop experience.
The beauty of scripture is truth is told. Sometimes actual events are reported but often the scriptures simply open our eyes to the truth. And the truth of this story, this story of the transfiguration is not whether or when it happened, what matters is that this truth is Jesus, fully human and radiant with divine light shines forth for us to see and believe.
This last Sunday in Epiphany finds us on top of the world. As we gaze at the radiant face of the one we have been following all these many weeks, we catch a glimpse of glory that is ours, the glory that filled us at creation, the very breath of God. Jesus is revealed to us during this season of Epiphany and he will offer himself to us in the season of Lent. And that’s the story we resist. We know somewhere deep down inside things are going to get messy — the weather will turn on us — the wild ride from blazing star and wise men kings, the waters of baptism and that crazy prophet John, the wedding feast with endless wine, the crowds and the miracles, the visions of the kingdom of God from the mount, we know this is all too good to be true.
So, we say, “Let’s stay up here, on top of the world. It is good for us.” Of course it is, because we know there is trouble down below. We sense this could go very wrong, that storm clouds are brewing below. What we don’t yet understand and don’t want to know is the price of glory.
Here is Jesus, revealed to us, fully revealed, fully human, fully reflecting the image of God, and filled with light, radiant like the sun. And we stand in awe, longing to stay in the moment. Glory before us. In other words, the radiance of the divine dwells in Jesus. And rather than follow Jesus in this way, we long to make him an idol — we quickly turn away from the alternative — the journey off the mountaintop, the journey to Jerusalem, the journey to his passion.
Jesus is revealed and Peter, on our behalf says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Before he could shut his mouth, they were overshadowed by a bright cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” In Matthew’s version, the three collapse in a heap and Jesus speaks. His words are clear: “Get up and do not be afraid.” The storm may be coming but I am with you and you will come off this mountain and it will be stormy but then, the sun will rise.
We long for glory but we do not want to pay the price. Glory will come to us as we turn our eyes and ears and heart to God. Each of our own stories will have an ending, each story closes with a death but our stories have an epilogue that reads: And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and he said to them. Do not be afraid, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. From this mountain of glory we must come down and finish the journey. As Jesus has been made manifest on this last Sunday of Epiphany, so, too we must go through the disclosure of who we are during this season of Lent.
Can we bear the scrutiny of our words and deeds? Can we open ourselves to the radiant light of day and be seen? Our Lenten journey to Jerusalem is not simply following Jesus to the cross as passive observers. We are called to expose our own hearts and minds on the way. And in this journey we must face the fact that we are likely to abandon and betray Jesus. When we are ready to acknowledge that fact, then we will be ready to bear the good news, his death brings us into the light, his sacrifice is our salvation, his resurrection, our hope.
Over the next forty days we prepare ourselves for the truth about our humanity. We, individually and collectively, look in the mirror and accept that there is more, that there is a path, that there is the means and that we are not along. All of this leads us to glory, for we, too, are called to reflect the radiant light of the creator. Our faces will shine and we shall be radiant in our own way. Often we speak of ingesting the body of Christ.
Today I invite you into another image — imagine that you are absorbed into the glory of God. By Jesus, and with Jesus, and in Jesus, we bring glory to God as we are enveloped in that Glory. At the same time, deep within ourselves, we know that we, too, are the beloved children of God. And we hear the voice of God say, “These are my children, the beloved, and with them, I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia!