And Jesus alone remains

File:Israel hermon (5330547343).jpg

The reading begins “Six days later”: six days after Jesus first told his followers that he would be rejected in Jerusalem, crucified and raised; six days after Peter has rebuked Jesus for such a thought and been himself rejected; and six days after Jesus taught that they must take up the cross for “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Mark 9:2-9: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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I found myself struggling to find a story to tell this morning, something that could pull out the drama of this text, something with which we could connect. The problem is that the Gospel story itself is so unreal to us. We are not a people who have visions – or, if we do, we tend not to talk about them. They aren’t considered normal. If we told someone we saw things like this they might think we are a little crazy.

Other cultures put great importance on visions. We know, for example, that certain indigenous societies had a rite of passage sometimes referred to as a vision quest. Such visions provided profound guidance for their lives. But we don’t do visions. We don’t listen to dreams. We don’t hear God’s voice. Our spiritual lives are often neglected and impoverished.

I am not suggesting that you go on a vision quest. There is a rich spirituality within the Christian tradition, and I would invite you to see what is to be seen: To see Christ in the water, washing you with grace. To see Christ in the bread, joining his life to yours. To see Christ in the cross that walks in our midst. To see Christ in the glory of the flowers that decorate our space. To experience Christ in the beauty of the music. To see Christ in your neighbor, to feel Christ’s hand in yours at the passing of the peace, and to feel your hand become Christ’s hand as you extend peace to others.

But to go back to our text: This is a strange story to us because it speaks in a language we don’t really understand. And because we don’t understand the language, it’s easy for us to get it wrong.

This is my story about imagining Jesus to be kind of like Superman. When I heard this story as a child, I imagined that this event showed us the real Jesus, that the story gave us a glimpse inside the phone booth. Clark Kent pulls back his shirt and there we see the bright red S. Jesus is God and the disciples are getting a glimpse of it.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Jesus is not Superman. Jesus is not God masquerading as a human being; he is a human being just as we are. He doesn’t know things we don’t know – he just sees more clearly than we see. He hears the voice of God better than we hear. He feels the breath of the Spirit more profoundly than we feel it. He sees into the human heart more honestly and courageously than we see.

We are not seeing the true Jesus on the mountain; we see the true Jesus on the cross. We see the true Jesus protecting his disciples when the mob comes with torches and weapons. We see the true Jesus extending the hand of compassion to the leper, and to the synagogue ruler whose daughter has died. We see the true Jesus invite himself to the home of Zacchaeus and call Matthew, the tax gatherer, to be a disciple. We see the true Jesus driving out deceit and falsehood and all those spirits that corrode and debilitate human life. We see the true Jesus in the outrage at what’s happening in the name of God at the temple, and in the tears at the death of his friend Lazarus.

The real Jesus is the human being.

But Peter, James and John are given a vision. They see for a moment beyond the ordinary reality of everyday life into deep and profound things of God. For a moment that bread in their hands radiates with an overpowering grace. For a moment the word of forgiveness at the beginning of the service seems to thunder. For a moment they are grasped by an infinite truth.

The nature of visions, however, is that they not only give, they also take. They give us truth, but they also take away falsehood. They grant us a new vision of God and ourselves, but that means that old ideas get left behind.

We have all had these moments when we think that a person or a situation is one thing, and then we have one of those “Oh, my goodness” moments when we see everything differently. Once your perception has changed, there is no going back.

Sometimes that process is sudden and dramatic. More often it takes time. The vision is granted and then the person must ponder the vision to understand what it means.

So these followers of Jesus are granted this vision of Jesus made radiant by the presence of God. They see all the glory of God shining upon him. Jesus is the perfect mirror of God.

And they see Jesus on par with Moses and Elijah, the great heavenly figures that are the pillars of Israel’s faith and life: Moses the giver of God’s law and Elijah the prophet, empowered by God’s Spirit, working wonders, the living voice of God.

They see, but they don’t yet understand. And so Peter says, “Let us build three dwellings”.

Our text repudiates Peter by saying: “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”

I used to think that Peter was a doofus who put his foot in his mouth by saying the first thing that came to mind. That he couldn’t think straight because he was so terrified at what he saw. But Peter wasn’t babbling. His suggestion was based upon what he thought he was seeing.

He has seen Jesus destroying the citadels of Satan’s power. He has seen Jesus casting out demons, cleansing lepers, healing the sick and raising the dead. He has seen Jesus commanding the wind and the waves and walking on the sea, the remnant of the primordial chaos.

Now here are Moses and Elijah. Now here are the heavenly figures who fought God’s battles in ancient times and who disappeared into the heavens without anyone ever finding their bodies. Here is Moses who stood on the mountain and held up his hands and – when his hands were raised, the Israelites triumphed over their enemy. Here is Elijah who stood on the mountain and won victory over all the priest and prophets of Baal. I don’t think Peter is terrified at the presence of God as much as he is terrified by the moment: the heavenly armies are about to appear. The battle of good and evil is beginning, the cosmic battle that will overthrow all tyranny and oppression and bring God’s new creation. It’s happening now!

And Peter is proposing that they set up three tents by which these three commanding generals can witness the battle when all evil is overthrown.

But Peter didn’t know what he was talking about. Peter wasn’t seeing what was there to be seen. The vision wasn’t over. The cloud of God’s presence envelops them and God speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus alone remains.

The rebirth of the world isn’t coming with the battle of heavenly armies; it is coming with Jesus crucified. It is not by victorious conquest, but by deeds of love and mercy. It is not by strength and power but by service. It is not by judgment but by grace. It is not by purifying the world of the faithless but by gathering the outcast. It is not by gaining the world but by remaining faithful to Jesus even at the cost of one’s life.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” says the voice from heaven. And then Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus alone remains.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIsrael_hermon_(5330547343).jpg By Yoni Lerner from Tel Aviv, Israel (hermon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As no fuller

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Watching for the Morning of February 11, 2018

Year B

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind this Sunday. The psalm sings of God as a devouring fire. Paul refers to the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And Mark speaks of shining white garments “as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3RSV).

We don’t know what fullers are anymore, so our current translation will say “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” but I like that old word. There are people whose job it was to cleanse fabric. The Wikipedia article linked above says: “In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine.” It’s valuable for us to take the scriptures down from their pious mountains and remember the reality in which they speak: No amount of the ammonia in human urine could get Jesus’ clothes as white as they became in the cloud of God’s presence.

It was at the fuller’s field that Isaiah spoke to Ahaz promising the sign of a child named Immanuel. Malachi declares that one is coming who will be like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap

Slave work. Divine work.

Sunday speaks of the event known as the Transfiguration. This is the festival that brings this season of the Sundays after Epiphany to its conclusion. Once again we hear a voice from heaven testify to Jesus. As we heard at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of this season, so again we hear: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Unfortunately, most of us have become so used to them that they will not make us quake.

Pick an empire ruling in majesty and might over vast domains and then imagine you, a mere peasant, hear the shout: “Behold the king’s son!” We would fall on our faces. We would tremble with awe at the radiance of royal majesty. But we will likely hear Sunday’s text without terror and awe.

Perhaps that’s appropriate. The one who has come has come to save. He has shown himself our healer and redeemer. He has declared the Father’s love. But the divine command ought not be neglected: “Listen to him.”  There is a radiance here that comes from no fuller on earth.

The Prayer for February 11, 2018

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
to whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to listen to his voice
and to see your glory in his outstretched arms.

The Texts for February 11, 2018

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-14
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” – As Elijah heads toward his end in the whirlwind, Elisha seeks a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit, an expression drawn from the inheritance that goes to the eldest son.

Psalmody: Psalm 50:1-6
“Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”
– With the imagery of a storm over Jerusalem the poet speaks of the majesty of God who comes to speak to his people.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6 (appointed 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
“It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – Paul expounds on the story of Moses, whose face radiated with the glory of God after God spoke to him in the tent of meeting.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
– Peter, James and John serve as witnesses when God appears to Jesus (and, like Moses, his appearance is transformed) and testifies that he is God’s beloved son to whom we should listen.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATransfiguration_of_Jesus_Christ._Novgorod_XVI_Russia.jpg By Новгородская живопись XIV века [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Centered in God

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Friday

Luke 9:28-36

29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Prayer is given a central place by Luke in his Gospel. He begins his Gospel with an answer to Zechariah’s prayer. Anna spends her time in the temple with fasting and prayer night and day.” The Spirit comes upon Jesus after his baptism when he is praying. Jesus withdraws from the community to pray. Jesus spends the night in prayer before choosing the twelve. He is praying alone when he asks his disciples the fateful question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He goes up to the Mount of Transfiguration in order to pray and is in prayer when “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

It is because the disciples see him in prayer that they ask Jesus to teach them to pray – in answer to which we get the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray always and not lose heart. And Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is so intense that Luke tells us the sweat dripped off him like large drops of blood.

The 120 believers are gathered in prayer after the resurrection. They pray for boldness when they are threatened to silence – and their prayer is answered immediately. There is prayer for the Spirit, and prayer of intercession and prayer before healing.

Saul is in prayer after his encounter with Jesus on the road top Damascus left him blind. Cornelius is in prayer when the angel visits him, and Peter is in prayer at the house of Simon the Tanner when he has his vision of the net where no one is unclean.

Paul and Barnabas are sent on their mission after a period of prayer and fasting, and with prayer and fasting they, in turn, appoint elders in the churches they found.

What happens to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration happens in prayer. This is not just pious talk for Luke. He understands that deep and significant things happen in prayer – things that have much less to do with obtaining divine favors and much more to do with being guided and empowered.

And that’s what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his coming “departure’ (in Greek, ‘exodus’), the road that awaits him in Jerusalem.

There is a kind of prayer that intercedes for others, that asks for God to do something. But at its core, prayer is a deep listening, a communing, a syncing of our hearts with the heart of God.

We can see it on the face of others when they are troubled within. We can also see it when they are centered in God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADesert_Rose_Labyrinth.jpg. By AliveFreeHappy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember the holy

Clouds and light

Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

A cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

One of my brothers got married some years ago, when my girls were young, at a place I presume, now, was in the Oakland hills. It was then – and is still – unfamiliar territory to me. I should ask my brother where this was.

I only know that after we left the wedding reception late that night, the road rose up along the edge of the grass covered hills and we were unexpectedly engulfed in a thick, thick fog. Suddenly there were no stars, no city lights, no horizon and no other cars. It was profoundly disorienting. We were in this ethereal white cocoon unable to see to the side of the road. It was also scary; we were traveling a mountain road and I could not see where the road went.

I have sympathy for Peter, James and John, an all night prayer vigil makes anyone’s head droop. They are alone up there, away from the safety and security of the village (this is not a world in which people went camping!), when suddenly they are startled awake by two men talking with Jesus. There before them are the holy figures of Moses and Elijah, radiant with the glory of the celestial realm. And then they are enveloped in a cloud – a cloud they know can only mean the divine presence. Like Moses and Elijah on Sinai, they are in the presence of the Holy One – these decidedly unholy fishermen.

Disorienting. Fearful. And then the voice. No wonder they kept silent about what they had seen.

We are a first name culture. We are a society in which everyone’s photos and thoughts are public. Here is me with my buds. Here is me on vacation. Here is me at dinner.   Here is the sunset I see, or the blossoming daffodils. (Yes, I know that grammatically it should be “Here am I”, but somehow the repetition of the word “me” seems more appropriate.) We post our favs and show our videos. Grieving families do the morning news. Not much is hidden.

It is hard to appreciate what Peter, James and John felt in the presence of the holy. But I felt a piece of it that night in the fog when I could see nothing familiar. When the world seemed to dissolve around me. When I was confronted with something I had never experienced before.

There is something good in that part of Christian faith that recognizes the intimacy of our relationship with God. Jesus, after all, dared call God “Father” and bid us do the same. But there is also a time to remember the holy, the otherness, the majesty and mystery of God. There is a time to be weak in the knees. There is a time to know the awe.

 

Photo: dkbonde

Radiant with Heaven’s glory

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Watching for the Morning of February 7, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Transfiguration

As we stand at the threshold of Lent and its journey to Jerusalem and the cross and resurrection, this final Sunday after Epiphany takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There, the chosen one of God, anointed with the Spirit, and declared God’s “Son” at his baptism, is made radiant by the presence of God. It is a story sandwiched between two passion predictions. Jesus is pointing his followers to his destiny: he will suffer and die and on the third day be raised.

This teaching is beyond anyone’s comprehension. No one has imagined such a destiny for the Messiah. The disciples don’t understand. We don’t understand. God should fix things not suffer them, right wrongs not endure them. God should vanquish enemies, not be their victim.

This is why, if you read the extended version of the appointed text, you will hear Jesus say: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (And if you are reading the extended version, you should go all the way through their incomprehension in verse 45.)

Jesus is the crowning revelation of God. Like Moses at Sinai and Elijah in the cleft of the rock, Jesus climbs up the mountain into the cloud of God’s presence. But Moses and Elijah appear not as Jesus’ equals, but to bear witness to him. They discuss his “departure”, his coming death and resurrection (literally his “exodus”), and in the end Jesus stands alone and the voice of God declares to the sleepy-but-startled-into-wakefulness, terrified-in-the-presence-of-God disciples: “This is my Son (a royal title), my Chosen; listen to him.”

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. And yet it is for the weary and heavy laden. It is demanding, yet full of grace. It promises life, but asks us to lay ours down. It forgives, but requires us to forgive. It loves, but requires us to love. It shows Jesus mighty against the demonic realm but helpless upon the cross. But even on the cross exercising kingly mercy.

It’s no wonder the disciples are confused. This is not the kind of Messiah for whom they have hoped. The Romans are forgiven not judged, enemies to be loved not conquered. Hundreds of years of foreign oppression goes unavenged, replaced by a mission to gather them all into the wide net of God’s mercy and grace. How can it be?

So here, in Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus bathed in the light of God’s presence. And here, with Peter, James and John on the mountain, God summons us to attend, to listen, to hear, to devour Jesus’ teaching and understand his deeds.

It is a vision meant to sustain us through Good Friday so that we are still in Jerusalem on Easter morn, ready to witness the eighth day, the day of new creation.

The Prayer for February 7, 2016

Holy and Gracious God,
wrapped in mystery, yet revealed in your Son Jesus.
Renew us by the radiant vision of your Son;
make us ever attentive to his voice and worthy of your service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 7, 2016

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
“As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” – Moses’ face shines from the radiance of God’s presence.

Psalmody: Psalm 99 (Psalm 2 is the appointed psalm; Psalm 99 the option)
“The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!”
– The psalmist sings of God as ruler of all, and of Moses and Aaron with whom God spoke.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
“We act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.” – Paul, writing to defend his ministry and to be reconciled with the Corinthian congregation, uses the image of Moses covering his shining face as a metaphor of the fading glory of the covenant at Sinai compared to the more glorious covenant in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36 (Optional: Luke 9:28-43)
“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.”
– In a narrative rich with imagery from Moses on Mt. Sinai, three disciples see Jesus radiant with the Glory of God and consulting with Moses and Elijah. They hear God’s voice declare again that Jesus is “my Son”, bidding them to listen to him.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAlexandr_Ivanov_015_-_variation.jpg by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

A beacon in the dark

Sunday Evening

2 Corinthians 3

File:Peggys Cove Lighthouse (3).jpg17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And 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 from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Jesus is fully human. This is a very bold declaration of the Christian tradition. What he is able to do he does by the power of God working through him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the hearts of others he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the future he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. The sins he forgives, the bread he breaks, the water upon which he walks – it is all the power of God working in and through him. Jesus is not a fundamentally different creature than we are. He is just better at it. He is a better human being. He is a human being in whom the link between God and himself is never broken. His trust in God does not fail.

The Transfiguration of Jesus doesn’t belie what is to come; it sustains us through it. Jesus is not Superman, letting Peter, James and John peek behind his Clark Kent suit. He is not revealing himself as the Lord of Glory as though the suffering that is to come were but a minor detour. We look at Jesus through the lens of the centuries and the doctrine of the Trinity and we tend to think that Jesus was God in a way that denies his full humanity.

But Jesus is not a divine being hiding in human form. He is not omniscient and omnipotent pretending to be limited by time and space. He is fully human. And the works that we see in him are done by faith, by his perfect trust in God. Jesus mediates the blessing and wonders of God. Technically, Jesus is not healing the sick and casting our demons, he is bringing into these places the healing power of God. He is God’s anointed, God’s Christ, God’s agent to dispense the gifts of God, to bring God’s reign of grace and life.

What happens on the mountain is not a sign of Jesus’ divinity, but a witness to Jesus’ authority – that Jesus is, in fact, God’s beloved son.

Peter, James and John need to hear God make this declaration because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And ignoble end is coming. A rejection. A suffering. An accursedness. The apparent failure of the promise. The apparent triumph of Rome.

The customary response to the crucifixion of a hoped for Messiah (assuming any followers survive the purge) is to go home disillusioned. We were wrong. We hoped, but we must have been mistaken. This is what the disciples on the road to Emmaus say: “We thought he was the one.” … Apparently not.

In the face of those moments in life that seem to belie the grace and power and love of God, we need to remember that God spoke with Jesus face to face. We need to remember that God has designated Jesus as the beloved son. We need to remember that Moses and Elijah came and bore witness that in Jesus the reign of God is dawning. Even when we lose sight of it.

The Transfiguration stands as a beacon in a dark world. It is one in a chain of lighthouses that mark the coastline and sustain us in the storms: the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism; the voice from heaven and the heavenly visitors at the Transfiguration; the angelic witness at the empty tomb. Again and again God bears witness that Jesus is the one in whom earth and heaven are reconciled, in whom the new world is born, in whom we are born of God.

For a long time I didn’t understand or appreciate the importance of this story. I kept thinking it was Jesus who shines when, in fact, it is God who shines upon Jesus. Jesus is radiant because he is the perfect mirror of God.

Would that there were more in the world who glowed with the radiance that comes from true faithfulness to God and one another. Would that there were more in the world who were clothed in Christ as a daily garment.

 

By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my Son”

Saturday

Mark 9:2-9

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Interior of Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart,

We read this story of the transfiguration every year at the conclusion of the Sundays after Epiphany.  It is a wonderful element in the architecture of the church year.

This season follows the celebration of the Epiphany, the feast day that tells the story of the Magi kneeling before the child Jesus. It echoes with all the great themes of the Epiphany: Christ Jesus revealed to the nations; Jesus the light of the world; Jesus the incarnation of God.

With the incarnation God declares that human life is a fit vessel of the divine, the finite can bear the infinite. And, in a stunning reversal of the natural order of things, the divine is not rendered ‘unclean’ by its contact with the fallen world, the world is made ‘clean’ by its contact with God in Christ.

Dropping ‘clean’ food on the floor doesn’t make the floor clean; but the Christ has made us clean. The earth, once holy and perfect and good, is made holy again. God, who once walked with us in the garden, walks in our midst again. The water set aside for cleansing has become wine.

On the first Sunday of this season we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord and heard the voice of God declare that Jesus is God’s beloved son. It is the kind of declaration made by the emperor when he has chosen a successor and declares him his son. It is the Old Testament language for kingship. God has designated Jesus as second in rank only to the Father. In Christ God has come to reign in us and among us. And so, in the Sundays that follow, disciples are summoned, demons are driven out, the sick healed, sins forgiven, prisoners released. A new reign is begun.

With Lent the church calendar will turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem: the holy city that has bent the knee in service to Rome. The holy city that has chosen power and wealth over justice and mercy. The holy city that has exalted temple and cult over the spirit and truth. The holy city that reflects the truth of every human heart.

Jesus has a destiny there: to be rejected. To be condemned. To be branded a liar. To be shamed and degraded and killed. The holy one is rendered unholy. The apparent triumph of an ‘unclean’ and unholy world.

But before we start this path through Lent to Good Friday and Easter, the architecture of the church year gives us the Feast of the Transfiguration so that we hear one more time the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, the beloved.” And then the voice of God commands us: “Listen to him.”

Something unexpected is coming, and we need to not lose faith before we get there. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to see this journey through. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to hear the promise that death will lead to life, the grave will yield to the empty tomb, the violence of the world will not stop the kingdom.

Hate cannot conquer love. The darkness cannot overcome the light. The lie cannot defeat the truth. The Father of lies will be dethroned. The Spirit will be poured out. God’s reign of grace and life is begun. The world is being made holy. We are being made holy, fit vessels of the Spirit of God.

“This is my Son. Listen to him.”

 

Photo: By Skier Dude (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Listen to him”

Watching for the morning of February 15

Year B

The Feast of the Transfiguration

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The Transfiguration of Jesus (and Last Supper) in the Floreffe Bible, 12th Century

Sunday we come to the end of this season after the Epiphany with the Feast of the Transfiguration. God announced, “This is my beloved Son,” at the beginning of this season (Baptism of our Lord) and now these words are heard again when Jesus ascends the mountain with Peter, James and John and they see him radiant with the divine splendor.

Moses and Elijah appear, speaking with Jesus, but the three are not equals. In the end there is only Jesus, and the voice of God declaring not simply “This is my Son,” but adding: “Listen to him.”

“Listen to him.” Moses and the prophets bear witness to Jesus, but he fulfills them. He embodies them. He is the ultimate manifestation of heaven’s voice. He is the Word made flesh, God’s creating, redeeming, transforming speech in human form. He is the one to whom we should listen.

Many Biblical texts and images rattle around in the background to this event. Images of cloud and fire evoke Old Testament texts like our psalm, where the God who appeared before Israel in fire and cloud at Sinai now appears in judgment over Mt. Zion. In the first reading Elisha doggedly pursues the privilege of inheriting Elijah’s spirit (and ministry) and along the way we hear of the Chariots of Fire that reveal the divine presence and, like a whirlwind, sweep Elijah away. Even Paul speaks from 2nd Corinthians about the Glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus.

Mountains, fire, clouds, fear, radiance, it’s all here: images with which we speak and imagine the presence of God. But the buzz isn’t the vision. The buzz is that final word: “Listen to him.”

Pay attention to what Jesus says and does – not what we think he should say or do. Pay attention to the one who goes to Jerusalem with frail friends not a heavenly army. Pay attention to the one who goes to Jerusalem in fidelity to God to take the cup he does not want to take. Pay attention to the Jesus who goes to Jerusalem and does not raise his hands in violence – either to take the throne or to defend himself – but like a sheep before the shearers is silent. Pay attention. “Listen to him.”

It’s too easy to see in the transfiguration the man of power we want, rather than the man of peace we have – aah, here is the true kick-ass Jesus hiding behind his peasant robes. Nope. Same Jesus. Troubling Jesus. Crucified Jesus. Shouldering the debt of humanity Jesus. Revealing how degraded is the image of God in humanity Jesus: Look, we are crucifying people. We are burning them alive in cages. We are beheading beautiful, kind smiles. Look. And listen.

“Listen to him.” Not to the chattering class. Not to the tracking polls. Not to “all your friends.” Not to your passions and desires. “Listen to him.” “To him.”

Before that simple word all the wind and fire and cloud pale. And we rightly fall down in awe.

The Prayer for February 15, 2015

Holy and Gracious God,
wrapped in mystery, yet revealed in your Son Jesus.
Renew us by the radiant vision of your Son;
make us ever attentive to his voice;
and worthy of your service;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 15, 2015

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-14 (appointed vv. 1-12)
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” – As Elijah heads toward his end in the whirlwind, Elisha seeks a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit, an expression drawn from the inheritance that goes to the eldest son.

Psalmody: Psalm 50:1-6
“Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”
– With the imagery of a storm over Jerusalem the poet speaks of the majesty of God who comes to speak to his people.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6 (appointed 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
“It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – Paul expounds on the story of Moses, whose face radiated with the glory of God after God spoke to him in the tent of meeting.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
– Peter, James and John serve as witnesses when God appears to Jesus (and, like Moses, his appearance is transformed) and testifies that he is God’s beloved son to whom we should listen.

 

Image: By Anonymous (the British Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my Son, the Beloved”

Sunday Evening

Matthew 17

5 “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

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The Transfiguration, Baptism, and Resurrection of Jesus
By Moreau.henri

We sang the Gloria today for the last time: “Glory to God in the highest,” the song the angels sang before the Shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.  It is the last echo of Christmas.  Now our eyes turn towards Easter, towards the three-day celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the remarkable and unexpected outcome of the story that began with the equally unexpected announcement to Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  What sounded like the heralding of a new king for Israel will crash and break to pieces against the rock of Roman power – only to be utterly transformed into a dawning reign of grace and life for all creation.

The star that has graced our sanctuary will be put away.  The candelabra that spoke of the one proclaimed as light of the world will also be put away.  The color will shift to purple – the color of the robe that the taunting soldiers threw over Jesus as they mocked and tortured him with a crown of thorns.  Royal purple.  Meant to shame Jesus.  Meant to discredit him in our eyes.  But we see its truth.

But today, before we begin that Journey to Jerusalem, we heard once again God declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”  These are the words spoken at the beginning of this season when Jesus was baptized by John.  They are spoken again here, not in wistfulness as a fading refrain of the season, but with confidence.  The one who journeys towards the cross is the holy one of God.

And we are invited to journey to Jerusalem with him and to wait there for the wonder to come: his vindication.  The breaking of the tomb.  The tearing of the curtain.  The harrowing of Satan’s realm.  The reconciliation of heaven and earth.  The dawning of the new creation.

It all awaits us as we tell again the story beginning that wondrous Thursday night when feet are washed and bread broken, when soldiers come in the dark and strip Jesus of all honor – and that Friday afternoon when the nails are pounded – and that Saturday evening when darkness turns to light, when we journey again through the waters of baptism into Christ and from death into life, and hear the great cry “Christ is risen!”  And then that Sunday morning we come back together to sing then, and through the next fifty days, the Alleluias and a new song, the hymn of heaven from Revelation 5:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Alleluia.  Alleluia.

The touch of Jesus

Saturday

Matthew 17

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Antonello da Messina – Salvator Mundi

7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

I love the tenderness of this gesture.  In the presence of the Almighty, at the sound of the voice, Peter, James and John fall down in terror.  They have a vision of Jesus made radiant with the presence of God.  They see Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus.  The vision reveals to them that Jesus is equal to Moses and Elijah – and so the suggestion for three shrines upon the mountaintop.  But then there is the cloud of God’s presence, and the voice speaking: “This is my son.”  And they are overcome with the terror of the holy.

The three know they are in the presence of the holy God, the one who met Israel at Sinai where the earth shook and the mountain was encompassed in fire and cloud.  They are at the doorway to the heavens – like Jacob waking from his dream of the stairway with angels ascending and descending.  This is a holy place.  This is sacred ground.  This is a dangerous place for sinners to be found.

But Jesus comes to them, bends towards them, touches them, raises them.

Jesus does not come to them with tongs bearing a burning coal – as the seraph came to Isaiah.  Jesus does not come to them in the flashing fire and eyes of Ezekiel’s vision.  They are not made mute like Zechariah or blind like Paul on the Damascus road.

Jesus touches them.  As he touched the leper and made him whole.  As he touched Peter’s Mother-in-law and made her well.  As he touched and opened the eyes of the blind.  As he took the synagogue leaders daughter by the hand and raised her from death.  As he caught Peter sinking into the sea.  As he placed his hands on little children to bless them.

Jesus touches them.  As he lays his hand upon us when we are overcome with fear, when we are sinking, when we are in need of healing.

“Listen to him,” says the voice of heaven.  “Listen to him.”