PREPARED FOR LENT
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
The focus of the Lenten season is renewal; specifically, we engage in the annual discipline of “walking in the way of the cross.” We affirm the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin, by examining the interiority of our persons; and we share with the world the shine of the joy and light we put on our faces through daily “adherence to Christ.”
Lent is a season to feel the pain God suffered for our sakes, and to set aside the fear and anxiety that arise from the knowledge that we too are called to shoulder the weight of suffering. This is the message of today’s Gospel [i]:
1) God reveals – upon a mountaintop – the glory of his Son; Jesus is the archetype of saving light.
2) This event takes place for us, as was true also for his original disciples, as we prepare ourselves for the passion that lies just ahead;
3) The light of the countenance of Jesus Christ – until this moment held back from us – is seen through faith in all its clarity and brilliance;
4) The transfiguration is a gift intended to strengthen us, so that, following in the way of Jesus, we may be strengthened to bear our sufferings;
5) And most importantly, in our imitation of Christ, we may be changed into His likeness from glory to glory.
That is, as we have seen Jesus shine, others shall see us shine. Let us then take a moment and go back to the picture written for us:
Jesus’ radiant Transfiguration on Mount Tabor is like the “devouring fire” on the top of Mount Sinai “in the sight of the people of Israel” when Moses entered the cloud (Exodus 24.17).
To the left side of Christ, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets, stands Moses, holding a tablet of the law, and to his right stands Elijah, the prophet who while yet alive, was taken in a fiery chariot into the sky. The three talk among themselves, incomprehensibly, about Jesus going away.
It is the Feast of Booths. Peter asks Jesus for permission to make three booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus himself. This kind of booth is made from twigs and branches; the booths resemble huts or tents, like those the Israelites sheltered in when they journeyed with Moses in the wilderness. They are intended to remind humanity of the impermanence of shelters in the wilderness.
Then a cloud falls over the mountaintop, and a voice speaks out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” These were the same words God had spoken from the sky at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” but with a small addition; God instructs the disciples to “listen to him.”
In the foreground of our picture, the three disciples, Peter, James, and John fall to the ground and cover their eyes to protect them from the light. After some time passes, the cloud goes away, Moses and Elijah are no longer present, and Jesus is again alone with his disciples. What has happened?
We have been given a glimpse of the future; the new has replaced the old; it is time for humanity to move on, as the cloud, when the ark’s shelter was completed, “covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle.” The tabernacle became a mountain on the move, and now we have become the tabernacles.
The forty years of journey from exile to freedom in the desert has been superseded by the liberating display of “God with us” – in the here and now – for the forty days of our turn towards Jerusalem – and the accomplishment of the Great Sacrifice that will set free not just the Jewish People but all of humanity and the whole of Creation.
How can this be? The Sacrifice Jesus will make for us is a terrible event – the Creator of the Cosmos will be slain by his own people – abandoned, tortured and slain – on an inevitable path that he follows through to its conclusion. And he is only able to follow through with what needs to be done because he trusts in the will of the Father God. This explains why Jesus the Messiah is glorified; and His glory is the same glory that He shares with you and me, when we too place our trust in God.
Where else, we may ask, other than on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration, do we see this glory? Where else do we see God’s glory displaced with such awesomeness?
Three occasions come to mind: 1) at the empty tomb, on Easter morning; 2) at the ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and 3) at the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, on the birthday of the church. We shouldn’t, however, overlook the luminous display, on the night Jesus was betrayed, of the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and its perpetuation in His church. In the Liturgy of Word and Sacrament, we listen to Jesus, and the God of all lights is with us.
The two events, Transfiguration and the Last Supper, begin and end our Lenten path “in the shadow of the cross.” In the one we are shown the glory – and what we are to be. In the other, we are given the means for attaining our shine – we are given the gifts of Christ’s body and blood, to feast on, in our hearts, with thanksgiving, and sustain us on our way.
And all the people said, “Amen.”
[i] Taken from the Collect for the Day found in The Book of Common Prayer (1979): “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”