Exodus 24.12-18; Matthew 17. 1-9
But there is an interesting thing about car accidents. Or any kind of weird, traumatic events in our lives. One emerges from them with a different view of things.
But it all seemed…different too. I sort of went around thinking to myself: what if I had died? What if I never returned here again? What would all this look like to someone entering my house after I was dead?
Yes, I now…morbid. It’s morbid thinking. But…it’s also realistic thinking as well.
Life-altering events change us and change how we see the world around us and our place within that world. And things do look different—our perspective changes—after events like this.
No doubt Peter, James and John thought somewhat like this when they gazed upon Jesus transfigured on the mount. He still looked like the Jesus they always knew. He still had the basic features. He was recognizable. But…he was different. He was transformed. He was transfigured by the Light which shone from within him.
On this last Sunday of Epiphany, we hear in our Gospel reading an echo of something we heard on our first Sunday of Epiphany. If you can remember back all the way to January 12, we also heard God speaking words very similar to what we hear this morning in our Gospel reading. On January 12, the First Sunday in Epiphany, we found Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
That morning we heard in our Gospel reading about how, as Jesus rises out of those waters of the Jordan, God’s voice is heard to say,
"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Today, on this last Sunday in Epiphany, as Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop, flanked by Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets, both of which Jesus fulfills, and with Peter, James and John gazing on, we also hear again God speak, almost as an echo to what was said at Jesus’ baptism:
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
We find in all of this, that although Jesus is changed somewhat, that the situation has changed somewhat, the one thing that has not changed is God. In fact, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning, we find God speaking to Moses in a very similar way as well.
There we find, much as we find in our Gospel reading, a mountaintop, a cloud, and God’s glory—and God speaking to Moses much as God speaks to all of us in today’s Gospel. For us, these readings reveal to us that we too are to be available for such transfigurations. We need occasionally to be transfigured.
This past Wednesday, at our Wednesday night Mass, we commemorated the great Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert. You know how Herbert is so important to me personally. One of the poems of his I reference again and again is his poem, “Windows.”
I use the image from that poem over and over again of us being windows. Herbert says we are like stained glass windows. Windows in which the light of God shines through. Being the conduit through which God’s Light shines means allowing ourselves to be transformed by that Light.
It means being reborn by that Light. It means that, yes, we are still who we are. We still look the same. Yes, we are still cracked and warped windows. But that somehow, that Light coming through transforms the cracks and the warping and makes the whole window shine and glow.
As the Lenten season starts, we find everything dimming a bit. I often refer to these Lenten days as the long, gray days of Lent. To me they are, any way. They are the time we when, whether we like it or not, we hear more talk in our scriptures and in our liturgy, of sin, of repentance, of being aware of our shortcomings and of trying turn away from those moments in which we fail. It is a time, to continue our Windows analogy, in which we examine the cracks and warps in our glass panes and we try to repair them in some way.
But as we progress through Lent toward the glorious, blinding light of Easter morning, we realize that although the Light may seem dimmed, it at no point goes out. Even on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when it will seem darkest of all, the Light will not be completely extinguished. We end the Season of Epiphany with this glorious vision of the Transfiguration. It essentially sustains us and upholds us until the Light of Easter shines upon us.
On Tuesday night, after our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, we say goodbye to the Alleluia. We take down the alleluia banner and place it in a box, which will then be taken out and “buried” As we do this, the rest of us will sing our last Alleluias for a while. After Wednesday—Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent—we will not be saying the word “Alleluia” in our liturgies until Easter.
Sometimes it’s very good to do things like this. It’s good to retire a word for a period of time. Because we often take words for granted. We use some word without thinking about them.
Alleluia is one of those words. It’s a joyful word. It’s meant, essentially to be an exclamation. It’s what Peter, James and John no doubt exclaimed on the mount when they saw Jesus transfigured and the voice of God speaking to them. And when that word goes away, we miss it.
We find ourselves almost—just almost—saying it on occasion during Lent. And then we catch ourselves. When we do that, we appreciate it even more. We realize how important that word has become to us. We are conditioned to say it. And when it’s gone, we realize—yes, it is important. It’s a precious gem in our language that we need to remember is truly precious.
And like the Light we experience today, we will carry it with us through Lent, even when we don’t actually say it. We will still hold it close. We will still truly be, as St. Augustine once said of all Christians, “an Alleluia from head to toe.” We will still carry the Alleluia and the Light of Christ within us even through the grayness of Lent and the darkness of Holy Week. So that, on Easter morning, seven weeks from today, we will truly rejoice. That morning, we will say that word with all the meaning and joy it carries for us. And that morning, we will find that Light we have carried within us burst forth in glory. And we will find ourselves once again transfigured and transformed by that Light.
We will, on that glorious morning, say once again with a true and glorious joy,