LAST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY – 10th February, 2013 – St Matthew’s, Guildford
Since the 6th January, we have been in the period of the Church’s year which is the season of Epiphany. It’s about the repeated and growing revelation of who Jesus is and why he was born.
• The Feast of the Epiphany itself celebrated the arrival of “wise men from the East: to see the new-born King of the Jews. The “aha” moment is when we realise that Jesus is born not just for “God’s chosen people”, the Jews, but also for Gentiles, those not born of the tribes of Israel;
• Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John at the River Jordan culminates in a massive “epiphany” – the Holy Spirit settling on him like a dove, and God the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well-pleased”
• The Wedding at Cana in Galilee showed us something more of who Jesus is, as he turned water into wine, saving the feast. John calls it a “sign” an indication of a truth greater than the miracle itself;
• In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus’ reading from Isaiah and his statement that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” reveals to us his mission – and, ultimately, ours;
• And, last week, Jesus continued his sermon, revealing even more controversially and clearly that his mission is wider than just to the people of his native Israel. And he is thrown out for his boldness.
So, today, we come to the end of the Season of Epiphany, and the season culminates with another undeniable “epiphany”. The word means light bursting forth, a revelation, and “aha’ moment. And as Jesus is praying on the mountain with Peter, James and John, he is seen in his true light – literally as well as metaphorically.
In Luke’s Gospel, from which we read this morning, our story is preceded by Jesus’ having asked his disciples who people were saying him to be. Then he had asked the disciples for their opinion of him, and Peter has declared him to be “The Messiah of God”. And Jesus has proceeded to tell them of his impending suffering and death and resurrection. It seems we are getting to the pointy end of his three-and-a-half year ministry.
So, a week later, Jesus takes the “inner circle” of the apostles – Peter, James and John – with him up a mountain to pray. And we read, “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.”
I find myself wondering what this event, so succinctly described by St Luke, means to Jesus, to the disciples who were present, and eventually, to us.
For Jesus, coming to the end of his ministry, as he turns shortly to begin his last journey to Jerusalem, there is a reaffirmation of who he is and why he is here. “This is my Son, my Chosen”, comes the Voice from heaven, almost repeating the words Jesus heard at his Baptism. The one who affirmed him at the beginning is still with him. The calling he received at the beginning is still current and relevant. Jesus is on track. He has been with Moses and Elijah “speaking of his departure” – the Greek word in Luke is “exodus”, which clearly reminds us of the events recorded in the book of the same name which has Israel rescued from Egypt and brought to the Promised Land. Jesus is the Moses and Joshua, the rescuer and saviour, freeing all from the tyranny of evil.
As Peter and his off-siders see all this happening, they are, not surprisingly, overwhelmed. Peter – ever practical – offers to build tents or dwellings for each member of this “holy three”. Like most of us would, he wants to prolong this “mountain-top experience” as long as possible. But this is not to be. They are not to concentrate on Moses and Elijah, or even on the extraordinary experience which has been their privilege.
The Voice is addressed to them – and to us – “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Whatever else may have been their focus to this point, they are to listen to Jesus. When he has told them of his impending suffering, death and resurrection, they have not understood. He will tell them twice more on different occasions, but still they will not understand. But whatever may happen, they have Jesus on whom to focus. If they will listen to him, they will do what he says and come to their own ultimate glory. So they went down the mountain, and “they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Matthew tells us that Jesus told them not to tell anyone; so perhaps they were obedient. Or maybe they thought no-one would believe them!
If you’ve ever had a major “spiritual experience”, you’ll have some idea of why Peter didn’t want to allow this wonderful moment to pass. Building tents would be one way to preserve the moment. Your “spiritual experience” may have been a moment of falling in love and finding that love to be reciprocated. It may have been an overwhelming sense of the presence of God – for me, one such experience was “Clausura” at my first Cursillo. It may have been the first look at your first baby. It may be observing something wonderful in the creation – a rainbow, a sunrise or sunset. It could even be the final siren when your team won the AFL Grand Final!
For any of these emotional/spiritual highs, we might want them to last – and they do, but only in memory and in the telling, if we are able to communicate them. Luke is able to tell us, presumably from the memories of Peter, James and John, of the wonderful event we call the “Transfiguration”. And we can only see this glory of Jesus through their eyes and the limitations of language.
We have walked these last few weeks with Jesus from Bethlehem to Jordan, to Cana and to Nazareth. And today we come to the mountain. But the message has never changed. This One whom we see transfigured, this One whom we glimpse in glory, is the one whom we saw in a manger, born to save the world. The One whom we see glorified today is the One who declared his – and therefore our – mission to be
“to bring good news to the poor.
… to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”
Jesus’ transfiguration is a step along the way – undeniably an important step – but the “mount of transfiguration” is not the ultimate destination. Another “mountain” is where he is headed – the “mountain” which is Calvary. Neither Jesus, nor the disciples, nor we, are to be distracted from his calling and purpose.
This Week we leave behind the season of Epiphany and begin the season of Lent. We will journey on with Jesus to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane and Calvary. And we make that journey knowing that we follow one whose glory we have seen “as though reflected in a mirror”, as St Paul puts it in today’s Epistle. We are encouraged, strengthened and renewed to listen to Jesus and to do whatever and wherever he calls.
The Lord be with you!