Fr. Bill Carroll – The Last Sunday after Epiphany, February 27, 2022
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you read the Bible, then you know that many strange and wonderful things happen on mountains. On one mountain, Moses received the Ten Commandments. On another, Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. On a different mountain, our Lord preached about the blessings of the Kingdom and the demands of discipleship. On yet another, he was crucified. In the religions of the Ancient Near East, mountains are places where we meet God. The veils that hide God from us are lifted, and God comes clearly into view.
Today, we are up on the mountain of the Transfiguration. We are there with Peter, James, and John. Before the unveiled glory of Jesus, we are uncertain—and maybe afraid. We are startled when the friend and teacher we thought we knew turns out to be someone different. He appears in robes of dazzling white. His glory shines in our eyes, more brightly than the sun. And so, we avert our gaze. We hide our faces. We may even stammer a bit, like Peter does. But it’s in vain that we try to contain this outbreak of God.
Then comes the voice. (A voice comes from heaven.) It is the same voice we heard at the beginning of the season, when Jesus was baptized: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”
This whole season long, we have heard one story after another about God’s glory breaking out among us. And, in a world where a “new iron curtain” seems to be falling, Epiphany is all about tearing down the walls that divides us. Vida Scudder, a devout laywoman in our church, recently added to our calendar of saints, wrote that the “key—note of the season” of Epiphany is the “open mystery of love.”
But real love is never easy. The “new light” that “shines in our hearts” can seem too heavy to bear. As Archbishop Rowan Williams once put it: “Looking at Jesus seriously changes things. If we do not want to be changed, it is better not to look too hard or too long.” The light of Jesus exposes the dark corners of our lives. And, in his presence, we are laid bare to the light and truth of God. We become more vulnerable. We become more open to change.
The light of Jesus intrudes into the world as we have made it. Often, we fail to welcome him. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Our hearts do grow cold. Our minds grow narrow. Suspicion, fear, and violence spread among us like a cancer. Today, the light of Jesus still shines brightly for all to see. But, even as it does so, one child of God murders another. Whether in Ukraine or much closer to home, we continue to butcher each other every day. Jesus comes to our world in mercy (yes)——but he also comes in judgment. He has come to show us a better Way. And so, we are called to listen to that voice from God: “This is my Son, my Chosen (God tells us). Listen to him!”
And we need to hear the reassuring words of Jesus this morning. We need him to tell us what he told his disciples over and over again. We need him to tell us, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid!”
And yet, at the same time, the cloud, the voice, and the light should strike us with a reverent fear for God—and a longing for the Prince of Peace. Williams notes that, in icons of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are almost always shown “sprawled in disorder” at the base of the mountain, their hands covering their faces. Like Israel at Sinai, they cannot bear to see God’s glory. Like us, they struggle to repent and change their lives.
Here today, we see Moses and Elijah flanking Jesus on the mountaintop. These friends of God and prophets have drawn near to Jesus. They want to look at his face and be changed.. “No one (Scripture tells us) can look on God’s face and live.” And, in and of ourselves, we lack the ability. We are not worthy. And yet, God has made us worthy. God’s grace has come to us as the surprising work of the Holy Spirit. God has helped us to see the face of Jesus Christ.
And that’s why Jesus came—so that we might see him, know him, love him, and obey him—that we might be changed by what we see in his face of love. In Jesus, we have been caught in a downpour of love—of peace, of goodness, of joy. As Fr. Andrew reminded us last week, the love of God has been poured into our hearts, in the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. He is the bond of peace and charity that unites God’s children around the world into a single Body—a single fellowship of love and peace and prayer.
Brothers and sisters, on this last Sunday after the Epiphany, Jesus is unveiled as the Son of God and our only Savior. In him, we are in the presence of a righteous and sovereign love.
Like the resurrection (which it foreshadows), the transfiguration of Jesus shows us God’s love, conquering our sin and death. It shows us Jesus—God-with-us in the flesh. He is the glory of God. He is a human being fully alive. “Looking at him seriously will change us. If we don’t wish to change, better not look too hard or too long.”
But what if we did? What if, this Lent for example, we renewed our commitment to the works of mercy and justice—seeking and serving Christ in all persons—and loving our neighbors as ourselves. What if we renewed our devotion to prayer and worship, to fasting, and to the study of God’s Holy Word? What if we uncovered our faces and drew near to Jesus? Paul talks about that in today’s Epistle:
When one turns to the Lord (he says), 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 (the same image) from one degree of glory to another.
If we turn back to God, we will start to look like Jesus. The Holy Spirit of freedom will make us more and more like him, until we learn to live as neighbors. We will love each other with the love that conquers death. We will lay down our weapons, whatever they may be, and learn to live in peace.