Last Sunday After Epiphany – February 27, 2022
Luke 9: 28-36
Here we are already at the last Sunday in Epiphany. Epiphany, that wonderful season of manifestation and revelation, filled with light to get us through the doldrums of winter. We started with the Baptism of Jesus, and hearing God’s own voice proclaim “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. And we end this season again hearing God’s voice saying “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him”. And whereas we started with the manifestation of the light of a star to the three wise men we end with the manifestation of God’s glory to three disciples. We prayed at the start of Epiphany “Guide by your light the nations of the earth that the whole world my know your glory” and today we pray “mercifully deliver us from the darkness of this world and change us into his likeness from glory to glory”. These prayers are particularly appropriate considering the recent events in the world.
The readings assigned for today catch me out every year! They are the readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration. “But” I say to myself, “The Feast of the Transfiguration is in August, why do we have these readings here now?” Well, I found the answer as soon as I opened the Anglican Lectionary site. In brief it said “Liturgy always looks forward”. So, just as the last Sunday of the Christian year, the Reign of Christ, looks forward through the season of Advent to the Incarnation of Christ, and also to his reign forever, now on this last Sunday of Epiphany, with the transfiguration readings, we are reminded of Christ’s true nature in glory as we are about to move into Lent and onto Easter. So today’s theme emphasizes our hope of the resurrection at Easter and eternal life.
Another thing I learned this week was that the Transfiguration itself has a rather chequered history in our church. In the first Anglican Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552, this Feast was omitted. Then in 1560 it was restored, but with no Collect or Readings provided. This continued in 1662. And then finally it was in 1928 that August 6th was recognized as the Feast of the Transfiguration. Finally to have these readings on this Sunday is a very modern change.
So let’s look at this mystery of transfiguration. It is in all the synoptic Gospels, and very similar. I guess I would start with some questions. Why did Jesus pick Peter, James and John to go with him? These disciples are often referred to as the “inner circle”. I feel that Jesus knew all his disciples intimately but he must have also felt that these three disciples were the ones who might best understand what was about to happen; that they might understand what the glory of God was really about. After all, just before this passage Peter had declared that Jesus was the Messiah of God. That was Jesus’ hope. Although we do read that tthe disciples were terrified, I feel they were also greatly changed by what they saw and were made stronger disciples as a result of it.
A second question in my mind was “Why was it that Moses and Elijah appear? Why them”? Well, Moses represented the Law of Israel, and as our first reading told us, he too had seen God’s glory on Mount Sinai as he received the 10 Commandments. We read; “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God”. The glory of the Lord shone so brightly, Moses put on a veil so people could look at and listen to him.
And Elijah? He was certainly one of the most powerful prophets in the Old Testament. He told the faithful that their God was the one true God. He rebuked King Ahab and prophesied of the glory of God. In our Prayer Book as we recite the Summary of the Law, at the end we say On these two commandments hand all the law and the prophets. When you say this you can think of Moses and Elijah.
So here we are on the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Suddenly, as Jesus is praying, we read “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes because dazzling white”. Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus, they too appear in glory, and talk about his departure. Jesus had just told the disciples for the first time of his death and resurrection in the passage before the Transfiguration. I do not think that the disciples or just Peter, James or John understood at all what Jesus’ departure could possibly be about. They refused to consider his death. But right now, the most important thing is that they see Jesus’ glory, and that of Moses and Elijah. Peter does what any good person would do when guests suddenly appear. He offers hospitality. “Let us make three dwellings”he says. And I expect that not only was Peter being hospitable, but he wanted this experience of glory to continue. However suddenly a cloud overshadows them, and they hear God’s voice saying “This is my Son, my Chosen: listen to him!”
Although our Western church sees the Transfiguration mainly as an event that concentrates on Jesus and his glory, the Orthodox Church puts emphasis on the Holy Trinity being present. God the Father spoke, God the Son was transfigured, and God the Holy Spirit was present in the cloud.
In any case, this is a seminal moment. And God has given us all extremely important advice. When God speaks, as he did at Jesus’ baptism, he identifies Jesus as being his Son, his chosen one. But now, in words spoken directly to the disciples, God says “listen to him”, “listen to him”. If you have, by God’s grace had God speak directly to you, you would do this automatically. But if you have not heard God speak directly to you, as might be the case for most of us, pay attention now, because through this holy Scripture, God is speaking directly to you now. And his command is “Listen to him,” “Listen to him.” For if you do truly listen, you too can experience God’s glory.
How do we as the church listen to God? In many ways. We listen in God’s creation. We listen to and study God’s Holy Word. We both speak and listen to God in prayer. We listen to each other as the body of Christ. All these things can bring us face to face with the Lord.
Paul, in our second reading, gives an excellent explanation. He says’ “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In other words, when we truly listen to the Lord, no matter how, by the grace of God, we too are transformed more and more into the image of God who created us. I believe that the Saints of the Church shine with God’s glory through their works. And I believe that the more we listen to Jesus, and do what he says, the closer we come to God. Inch by inch. Centimeter by centimeter. We become transformed, able to live fully as the individuals that God created in his image. True disciples of the Lord.
As a final comment, the apostle Paul writes; ‘Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” I thank Deborah for her fine sermon on freedom last week, and I feel that it is indeed the Lord who sets us free. Sets us free to become more fully that unique person God created us to be. Free. Free to serve Jesus and share his message of love.
May we, as we begin our Lenten voyage on Wednesday together, truly listen to the Lord. May we be also transformed and set free. Thanks be to God.