For the Last Sunday of Epiphany, Yr. A

[Homily for Trinity Episcopal Church, Castine Maine delivered on February 26, 2017]

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

In your light may, we see your light, O God. May only your truth be spoken and heard. Come whence it may. Cost what it will.  Amen.

Come mid to late February here in Maine, it isn’t difficult to understand the power that light holds over us. The light’s dramatic reappearing after the dark of the Winter solstice really captures our attention.  As much as we might love a good Maine Winter, this transfiguring light results in a tremendous seasonal transformation.

Not too many mornings ago, I opened the curtain at home delighted to discover that the morning sun had at long last reached its late Winter angle. At this time of the year, our home floods with tremendous light early in the morning and late in the afternoon. But, knowing that this will happen each February and actually experiencing it are two very different things.  Our calendars tell us that the light will shift dramatically at this time of the year. But, it still takes experiencing the light that leads to true transformation. When it first comes shining through with its brilliance, it stops us in our tracks as the newness of its appearance captures our attention.

This is what today’s lessons do as we hear about two mountain top experiences and God’s power to transfigure and to transform. Appearances of God’s glory, theophanies as they are called, are matters of high seriousness. In such events, what is encountered according to the Book of Exodus is, in Hebrew, kabod (kah-vode). The closest English equivalent to kabod is glory. But, kabod is more deeply understood as a kind of profound glory. It is a glory that carries serious weightiness, heaviness or gravitas. So, when Moses enters the cloud, he is attending to kabod.

Further, the writer of Second Peter is familiar with this Hebrew understanding of kabod. So, when he as an eyewitness to the transfiguration of the Lord, says that the voice of the Majestic Glory was heard on that day. He is telling us that God is the Majestic Kabod. This Profound Majesty declares Christ’s divinity within humanity. “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1]

In his book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, theologian Belden Lane points out that the writers of these stories “recognize that the glorious presence of God disclosed in hiddenness will inevitably be scorned and rejected in the public square. Glory is inextricably linked to suffering. The road to transfiguration travels the hard, bloodstained path from Egypt to Golgotha…Transfiguration is a hidden event… [It offers] to those facing anguish a brief glimpse of glory to come. It incorporates a theology of hope into a theology of abandonment and loss…”[2]

Notice that six days pass before the encounter with God that occurs on the seventh in each account. Moses risks the appearance of abandonment of his people as he leaves them, ascending to the Holy Presence. On the seventh day God calls out to him from the cloud, inviting Moses into the cloud where they commune for forty days and forty nights.

Rublev's Transfiguration (15th c.)
Rublev’s Transfiguration (15th c.)

And in Matthew we find that after six days, Jesus takes Peter, James and John away. They go “up a high mountain, by themselves [where Jesus] is transfigured [on the seventh] before them…his face shining like the sun, and his clothes [becoming] dazzling white.”[3] His appearance with Moses and Elijah signify that in him, the law and the prophets are made complete. It is also at this time that Jesus, engages with his friends, disclosing his coming resurrection borne from his suffering and death to them.

Similarly, Jesus engages with us today, participating with us in our humanity. He appears transfigured before us through scripture as we prepare for our own Lenten journey of forty days and forty nights. Today we put aside our Alleluias as Christ walks beside us. He is not only with us on the mountain, but he joins us in the trenches, too. And, we have the benefit of knowing the hope and promise that will accompany us to resurrection life.

By now, you might be sitting there thinking the obvious.  “Trinity is not on top of a mountain!” The closest equivalents are a few miles away from us at best. We’re not sitting on top of Katahdin or Cadillac or even on the summit of Blue Hill. Here we are, sitting with the waves practically lapping at our front steps. We gather after every six days, meeting on the seventh as the Body of Christ in the world: united, restored and fed. We’ve not seen thick clouds penetrated by flashes of light and fire on our way to church today. (At least, I hope we haven’t!) Likewise, I don’t think that we’ve been hearing other worldly voices.

But, because of Moses’ transfiguration and the giving of the law. And, through the transfiguration of Jesus, haven’t we encountered God’s transformation? Come to think of it, we do hear that still small voice of the Spirit among us. We experience the interaction of God with us through the Word proclaimed and lived. We experience relationship with God and one another whenever the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is celebrated.  We feast around God’s Holy table with saints past, saints present and saints future. Christ is present in and through each of us. From here we are then sent forth to take our expressions of God’s redeeming love into the world. And, after another six days, we do it all over again. Sometimes the light still surprises. Whether on the transfiguration mountain or in life’s depths, God tends to us in even the most unusual places that we sometimes find ourselves.

Remember that even the disciples fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. Jesus touched them on the shoulder and told them to get up and to not be afraid. When they stood up and looked, they saw only what they needed. Jesus.

Now, I do not think that this is a simple matter of either “on the mountain” or “off of the mountain.” The Reverend Elizabeth Palmer points out that “When Jesus touches us, it’s a heavy touch that acknowledges the suffering and sin intrinsic to the human condition — and yet, at the same time, a healing touch that lets us know that we are not alone in the human condition. God is also in it with us, helping us bear the heaviness…there is no ‘on the mountain, off the mountain.’ There is [only] the inner twined life that God has given to us. Its limitations are temporary. The Divine Love that accompanies us through all of it is what lasts.”

Finally, the other week I wrote to you in “Trinity Tidings” [see: https://douglasabeck.com/2017/02/11/inspired-to-pray/] about prayer and emergent

Unknown-1
Rublev’s Trinity (15th c.)

images that assist us on our spiritual journey. The topic was finding inspiration for prayer with the aid of icons. I bring this to your attention today because there is a mountain here at Trinity. If you look carefully at Rublev’s Trinity icon, you will see a mountain located above and behind the Holy Spirit, the figure to the right. When you take a close look, you will see that the concave shape of the mountain gives an inverse perspective. This perspective draws us, not upward, but inward. It is to this inward journey that we turn as we put away our Alleluias even as we make our cry, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!” May we always be open to the transformative Divine Love that is with us and remains with us always.

AMEN.

© Douglas A. Beck, 2017

[1] 2 Peter 1:17

[2] Lane, 135.

[3] Matthew 17:1b-2