The Rev. Sheila Scott, Deacon
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
It seems as though it was just last week that we celebrated Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, at which time the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And the voice came from heaven “you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. That event marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
This event, the transfiguration, suggests a new turning point in Jesus’ ministry, his preparation for the final journey to Jerusalem, and our preparation for Lent. These two experiences of baptism and transfiguration are linked together as part of the definition of just who Jesus is, and what he is about.
Only 8 days after Peter proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus takes Peter and John and James and goes up the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, we are told, the appearance of his face changed, and his cloths became dazzling white. Suddenly two men appeared, Moses and Elijah, and were talking to Jesus about his departure, or exodus.
The disciples were halfway asleep, but Peter, while he does not truly understand what is happening, grasps the importance of the moment, and offers to build three dwelling places for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. While he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud came a voice that said: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” Which, no doubt, terrified the disciples.
So why the appearance of Moses and Elijah? Their appearance with Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration, clearly intends to connect the representative of Old Testament law, Moses, and prophet, Elijah with Jesus, the Messiah.
Both Moses and Elijah were mediators between God and the people. With their appearance, they serve to place Jesus in continuity with Jewish tradition, and with their departure, ultimately allowing Jesus a prominent, final role.
The voice of God tells the disciples to LISTEN, to truly understand Jesus and who he is as Son of God, and what the implications of following him really means for their lives. Jesus has been talking about his impending betrayal, suffering, and death and about the meaning of discipleship, of taking up their cross and following him, but thus far, the disciples do not understand the true cost of their discipleship. They have less difficulty associating Jesus, the Messiah with power, than understanding his power to be faithful and obedient to God unto death. It was a very difficult concept for the disciples to grasp then, as it still is today.
If we are honest, we would have wanted to stay on the mountain ourselves. If you ever felt that “thin place” or a “God moment”, or a “moment closest to Christ”, listening to beautiful music, or experiencing a breathtaking sunrise or sunset, you know what I mean…you do not want it to end.
I remember my Episcopal Cursillo in March of 2000 at Camp Capers in West Texas. It was called the Cursillo of “The Descending Dove” an experience that I cannot put in words. It was my very first religious retreat or gathering ever. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit more profoundly than I have ever felt it in my life, up to that point. While some described it an emotional high, for me, it was rather a feeling of peace, of being accepted by God just as I was. I made a commitment then, to try to live in such a way that I could continue to experience the peace of God in my life. This led to an intense desire to learn, to study and to inwardly digest, to listen, to pray and to serve. Has it been an easy road? Definitely not, the Roman Catholic in me still feels guilty about pretty much everything, but I also learned, be careful what you pray for, because God will lead you to challenges you really do not feel prepared for, but he will always give you the strength to face them. We have the advantage over the disciples, we get to learn from their mistakes and triumphs, and get to practice year in and year out, they only had one chance…
Just like Jesus, who after the Transfiguration came down from the mountain and healed the epileptic boy, we also need to come down from our metaphoric “mountain”, our place to encounter God, into the valley to bring hope, and healing to a broken world.
It is vital to take time for daily prayer, meditation or listening to God to understand his will and to give us strength to face the challenges of the world in which we live in, after all, time and time again we read that Jesus retreated to pray; but we have to remember, prayer is preparation for action. Thomas Groome, Catholic educator said: “Christian faith involves believing, trusting and doing God’s will. Saying we believe in God is one thing, but living our Christian faith is something else”.
Feeding the hungry, providing to the needs of the homeless at shelters, supporting refugees to get on their feet and start a new life in our communities, guiding youth to stay in school, working for justice for all in our communities, finding solutions to the gun violence that is claiming so many innocent lives in our town and across the nation, these and many others issues need our desperate attention.
As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said “God is transfiguring the world right this very moment, through us, because God believes in us and because God loves us…And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no opposition that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned into love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled”
Let us prepare ourselves this Holy Lent to become that positive force that cannot be stopped in our community and beyond. AMEN.