[Sermon delivered on Sunday, February 7, 2016 (Last Epiphany at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church– Kansas City, MO at the 5:00pm Mass by the Rev’d. Fr. Marcus G. Halley]
Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.
Luke 9.33 (NRSV)
Grace and peace be unto you from G-d our Father, from Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Reigning Savior, and from the Holy Spirit who empowers and enlivens our time together.
Well, it is Superbowl Sunday. I figure I might as well name the elephant in the room before unfolding our homiletical moment. But for our purposes this evening, it is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday which begins the season of reflection and penitence that leads to Easter. Today we are invited to bear witness to something far greater than the imminent victory of the Carolina Panthers. It’s a victory of another kind, a victory over smallness and darkness, a victory over the paralyzing reality of “now” – the Transfiguration of our Lord, a “foretaste of glory divine.” The Transfiguration of Jesus is something we often hear about, I wonder if we grasp the importance of this event in our salvation story.
One of the most rewarding ways to enter Biblical stories is through icons, snapshots laden with mystery and meaning. The icon of the Transfiguration depicts the entire story of the event from the ascent of Jesus and his disciples to the top of the mountain, the Transfiguration itself, and then their descent back into the valley. Naturally, the central focus of the icon is Jesus, perfectly transfigured in raiment white and glistening. He is flanked on the left by Elijah and on the right by Moses who carries the 10 Commandments. In this icon Christ stands at the top of the mountain within a circular aureola. In Christian iconography an aureola is a threshold between time and eternity. It signifies the vastness of infinity. In the moment of the Transfiguration, on top of the mountain, Jesus was the bridge between time and eternity, between heaven and earth. Here is a little St. Andrew’s Church trivia – there are three such aureolas in this Church, each of them framing the majesty of the Risen Christ. One of them is in the Resurrection window in the Chapel of the Resurrection, another is in the last window on the bottom on the back of the Nave, and the third is right behind me. In this window we see the Risen Christ flanked not by Moses and Elijah, but by St. Peter the Prince of the Apostles and St. Andrew Patron. In these pieces of art, we are invited to bear witness to infinite majesty of the Glory of G-d that connects time and eternity, heaven and earth. The stained glass window is conveying a message to us if we stop long enough to hear it: when we gaze upon the Risen Christ, we see the future, we see justice, we see reconciliation, we see victory and triumph, we see the vastness of the mercy of G-d.
The disciples, who had only just managed to stay awake were given front-row seats to what we now see dimply, through a mirror. They got to experience firsthand this “foretaste of glory divine.” The disciples would witness Christ glorified, even before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. They would see Jesus for who he really was and is – Holy, beautiful, terrifying, and unspeakably magnificent. They would witness the power of G-d right before their very eyes.
Peter’s response to this revelation is great – “OMG! Jesus, let’s stay here!”
But they couldn’t. There was still much more work for Christ to do. Sometimes these intermittent glimpses of beauty are all we need to keep us in the frightening moments of our lives. Sometimes, these little flashes of light are all that hold us in the darkness.
Just as quickly as it happened, it was gone. This glimpse of “glory divine” vanished. “And they told no one what had happened.” I wonder why they told no one. Maybe no one would believe them. Maybe there simply were not words to describe what had happened. Perhaps they thought it was one of those dreams you have in that liminal space between being asleep and awake. Whatever the reason, the disciples were silent and told no one what had happened.
The Transfiguration can never be a story with simple answers. We cannot boil down the mystery of G-d into a catch phrase. Perhaps its better they didn’t say anything. Perhaps their silence spoke volumes. Sometimes we are simply invited to sit and see, to pay attention and be intentional, to hear and be changed. Sometimes it is simply “good for us to have been here.” Sometimes presence is all we can offer. And sometimes that is good enough.
But we can ensure that we are awake. Maybe that’s what Lent is all about – staying awake. Maybe we open our eyes to suffering in the world by fasting and self-denial, or maybe we open our ears to the voice of G-d by reading scripture or engaging in a new spiritual practice. Whatever it is, Lent is a time of preparation, of ascending to the top of the Holy Mountain, to behold the dazzling glory of the Resurrected Christ, so that when we leave this place, when we bask in the light of his Risen Glory, we too can say to one another and to those not in this place – it is good for us to be here.