The Last Sunday After the Epiphany:
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
A sermon preached by The Rev. Russ Minter at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, February 7, 2016.
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.
Let me start with a footnote from my Bible to clue us in on what is happening here: “Certain of the details in this account of the Transfiguration are peculiar to Luke and not found in Mark or Matthew (or, of course, John) Whereas in Mark it is the revelation of the hidden Messiah as the consummation of the Law and the Prophets, and for Matthew it is the manifestation of the new and greater Moses bearing the tablets of the Law, for Luke the Transfiguration is also a personal experience of Jesus, in the course of earnest prayer, in which he clearly sees the ‘passing’, the ‘exodus’ which he is to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Hang on to that! It is our focus this morning. Luke concurs with John on Jesus’ seeking his own death, a radical departure from the two earlier gospels.
Indeed, the Transfiguration is the personal experience of Jesus. Now, where in our Scriptures have we encountered this dazzling white before? Today’s Old Testament reading of course! You just heard it read in our first lesson. Moses’ face was so brilliant people couldn’t look at him, and he had to wear a cloth over his face. In Jesus’ blazing white his whole body was involved. What does this tell us, folks? This “passing”, this “exodus”, this morning carries us from the wonder of the Epiphany and its folktales, the Three Wise Men, or Kings, and the machinations of Herod, trying to catch his nemesis, a tiny baby who will replace him in Israel, smack into the struggles of Lent. Ours is a thoroughly Jewish faith, this event makes crystal clear. There’s work to be done, Jesus’ work, our work. What can we make of the very brilliance of heaven shining from anyone’s face? Here in this account from one of the Synoptic Gospels, we are ushered into one of the great moments in Scripture, the whole point and purpose of the Incarnation, or you could say the whole Bible and the Church and the Christian Faith, it’s all there, all summed up! The Transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah brings us to the very brink of Jesus’ self-immolation, his chosen death for us as the act of the supreme love of God for us all, sinner or saint though we be. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” as we know so well from the Gospel of John. Friends, not for nothing is the Church portrayed in St. Paul’s great image as the Body of Christ. Our Lord made his decision, his commitment, in this magnificent moment upon the Holy Mountain. Here and now you and I find our lives at stake. Do we walk with the Lord to Jerusalem? Do we put our own lives into his hands on the promise he made on our behalf and for our salvation? Off he goes, bound for Jerusalem. He knew perfectly well what was to follow. Do we know in our own lives? Are we with him?
Enough! This is the shortest sermon I have ever written, 768 words. If I may conclude with a personal aside, let me acknowledge a highly significant coincidence from my own life. It happens the Bishop of Texas instituted me rector of Christ Church, Eagle Lake, on the 6th of August, 1989, a day that turned out to be the Feast of the Transfiguration! I didn’t plan that, but it remains precious to me. The temperature in August in Southeast Texas was close to 100 degrees that night, and our two air conditioning machines couldn’t begin to cope with a packed church and parish hall. Human bodies make a lot of heat!. A marvelous occasion, with champagne and goodies for all. I passed a great ten years there, preaching my heart out. Don’t tell me there’s nothing to coincidences! Some of the great moments of the lives of any one of us are utterly coincidental, wholly unprepared, never to be repeated. Our Lord knew what he was doing. So did St. Paul, our patron saint in this parish. Let us brace ourselves. See you Wednesday, at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. We have plenty of ashes.