Year C Final Sunday after Epiphany, 3 March 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Luke 9:28-36 Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 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. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On my last trip to Liverpool with the Triangle of Hope Youth Pilgrimage as we were headed to the airport to fly home through JFK (in NYC) we learned that our flight had been cancelled. No explanation, just cancelled. We scrambled to get any plane to the States for the entire group and ended up getting one in to Chicago. Customs was backed up, so we had to run to our flight to Reagan National in DC. We boarded with minutes to spare. I made sure all our youth and chaperones got on before me and was waiting in the aisle to get to my seat. One our our young men was holding things up trying to get his overpacked carry-on into a shuttle flight’s overhead bin. As I was watching, I recoiled in terror as he almost dropped his heavy suitcase on his seatmate. And then I noticed who his seatmate was.
I could not believe it. I told the young man when I finally got to him to let the stewardess gate check the bag because it was not going to fit. As soon as I got to my seat, I pulled out my phone to double-check that his seatmate was who I thought he was, and try to figure out what was he doing on the last shuttle to DC on a weeknight. When I saw the daily headlines from Chicago, I soon saw why this man was in coach sitting next to one of my youth.
When we landed, I asked the young man if he had any idea who he was seated next to, and he said no. He thought he must be important or something because everyone kept staring, saying hello, and such. I let the young man know that the person he almost dropped his suitcase on was Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and President Obama’s Chief of Staff. It turns out while we were out of the country, he had been in a Twitter battle with the President, much of it that day, and he was getting to DC as fast as he could. My guess was he was headed to the White House or to strategize with the Democratic leadership. The young man was sitting next to this important person and had no idea until I lifted the veil.
Hidden in plain sight, right before us and unseen. The Transfiguration is one of those things we acknowledge, but I have rarely had substantive conversations about this most miraculous of unveilings. For that is what it is. It is a theme repeated over and over again in the stories we tell. What we see, or rather what we think we see, is far less than what is.
In Jaws, the shark comes out of the water and Chief Brody says, “I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
In Lord of the Rings, we find that dirty and questionable Strider turns out to be Aragorn son of Arathorn, the King who was lost and now is found.
In Romantic Comedies, the one standing right in front of us is the one we have been looking for all along.
We see, but don’t. Not really. The Veil is lifted, and we see the truth. Peter, James, and John thought they were taking a side trip with Jesus, a little break from teaching and healing when God breaks through.
We end Epiphany yearly with this most amazing of moments. It is recorded in detail in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptics, syn=same, optics=view, the same-point-of-view Gospels). Some say that John alludes to it in the first chapter (1:14) when he says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” It had such an impact on Peter it became THE point of which he based the surety of his faith, the point of Power which gave him the strength to face a grisly and brutal martyrdom. In 2 Peter (1:16-18) he said:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
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. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
These moments cannot last, but they are the things that carry us through the dark and lonely times. These remembrances are the touchstones of our souls that enable us to drudge through the day to day so that we can come out the other side.
In other Gospels Jesus orders their silence. In Luke, here, he does not need to do so. It is apparent that nothing could touch this, describe, explain, or share it. It would either be taken as another tall tale from fisherman (for that is what these three were) or some trick of the light or other dismissable event.
Never again could Peter look at Jesus the same way. Maybe one of the reasons he beat himself up so much when he denies Jesus three times was because he KNEW the Truth. He had seen it with his own eyes. He had heard it with his own ears. He knew the extent of his betrayal. He had caught the vision of Jesus’ Majestic Glory and had said it was not so.
There have been moments in my life when Faith was removed and Surety was provided. Even now I do not want to give details because what is Surety for me might be ridiculous to you. Assurances in your own life are as personal as our DNA. You know those moments when we stop “seeing in a mirror dimly, but... face to face” [I Corinthians 13:12] as St. Paul put it.
I loved how he phrased it in today’s reading [from 2 Corinthians 3].
Now mirrors back then are not the perfect image we mostly see today. They were highly polished metal, with wiggles, warps, imperfections and all. But even then he makes a point, we begin to resemble what we gaze upon.
...when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Take any serious, sourpuss adult and put them in the presence of a giggly baby. Most shift and change immediately, shifting to grins and gurgles and coos. The opposite is just as true. When we are depressed and looking down on ourselves, we project that out in what we see and how we see it. Even more, we project that in how WE LOOK. The inner gloom takes a form shaped like us. We may present and put on a happy face when we think it is required, but in those moments when our guard is down we present what we feel, our pain and gloom. “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
There is an old hymn:
O soul are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior And life more abundant and free
Turn your eyes upon Jesus Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace
And as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we begin to see with his eyes. We begin to see him in our hands. Others see him in our actions, and hear him in our voices. And we begin to resemble him that they may even call us little Christs, what the word Christian really means.
In a world that is looking for any reason to reject Christ because of the sins of the Church, when we have been less than the Grace we proclaim, may we be the glaring exception. May we be the “Well, I know at least one person who really believes.” And they can say that because we have removed the veil between what we believe and who we are. We have removed the barrier between listening to Jesus and being like him. We have stopped worrying about setting up monuments and we have take the experience back into the Valley of the World.
As we end this season, Epiphany, of looking back at these moments of revelation of Jesus as the Christ, we do it for a reason. We see these moments of unveiling, these moments in the sun, before we descend into the valley of the shadow of Lent. We pause in our march toward Jerusalem so that we can savor the moments. We embrace his Light before we cower before our Darkness. Sin is something we look away from normally. But as we move forward we descend into a season of acknowledging and embracing our fragility and our mortality. Enjoy this moment in the Sun. Open wide your eyes. For in the descent from God’s Holy Hill the shadows cling too closely. But in the dark we remember the Sun (the Son?).