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Sermon for Last Sunday in Epiphany February 14, 2010

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year C RCL February 14, 2010

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36

Today we are ending the Epiphany season and preparing for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. We are moving from the season in which we focus on light and mission and we are moving into that time in the Church year in which we prepare for Easter.

Our beginning lesson finds Moses coming down from the mountain. He does not realize it, but his face is shining with the light of God’s presence. He has spent time with God receiving the law, and he has absorbed some of the glory of God.

The people are afraid of him. There was an old belief that you really could not stand too much of the presence and the glory of God. Humans were not made to withstand such power. So Moses finally decides to place a veil over his face so that he can be with the people—so that they will not be terrified of him. He is the mediator between God and the people. His ability to converse with God inspires awe, but it also inspires fear.

Just a little bit before our gospel reading for today, Jesus asks his disciples, Who do you say that I am?” Peter firmly replies, “The Messiah of God.” Then Jesus tells them about his impending death and talks to them about taking up their cross and following him.

This is the prelude to the journey up the mountain. He takes Peter and James and John and goes up to pray. This is important. Jesus is praying. He is opening up the channels of communication with God. Moses and Elijah appear, symbolizing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, personified in Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah. Moses and Elijah and Jesus speak of the departure of Jesus. The exact word is the exodus of Jesus, that is, his crucifixion in Jerusalem which will free everyone from sin just as the exodus freed the people of God from slavery in Egypt. Jesus and Moses and Elijah appear in glory, the text says. This is the glory of God which we saw on Moses’ face in the first lesson.

Peter and his companions are weighed down with sleep. They are groggy, but they are aware enough to see this heavenly glory, and that is when Peter makes his rather irrelevant faux pas about building something that would contain all of this glory, as if it could be contained. The drowsiness is a foreshadowing of a future time when Jesus will ask these three to come with him, to support him, and they will fall asleep in the garden as he asks God to let this cup pass from him.

Then, amid all the grogginess and all the hints of future betrayal, the true identity of Jesus is made clear. The voice from heaven says, “This is my Son. my Chosen. Listen to him!”

On the one hand, our lessons today focus on the glory of God, the light and power which are almost frightening. On the other hand, we focus on the cross. Who is this Jesus? He is the Messiah, the Savior. He will die on the cross.

The disciples, Peter and James and John, are so helpful to us, I think, because, here they are, waking out of a half-stupor, to see this glory, and Peter is so overwhelmed he blurts out his wish to preserve this moment for all time, and then they all fall silent, because, after all, what could they say? They are stuck on the horns of a paradox. Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is going to a horrible death. How can these two things be true?

So much of our lives are lived in a kind of stupor. Get up, hopefully pray somewhere along the way, have breakfast maybe, rush off to school or work. One day blurs into another with all this busyness, and it is good and necessary, but it doesn’t leave us much time for the mountaintop.

And suddenly here we are, and Peter has said that Jesus is the Messiah, and we see this blinding glory of God, and Jesus is talking about the cross and calling us to take up our cross and it is all overwhelming. It is good that he took three of us up there because, years later, we would pinch ourselves and say, did it really happen, and the other two could say, Yes, it did. We all saw it.

In that moment of the transfiguration, we see who he truly is. We also see what we are destined to become. But the way there is not what we thought it was. It is through the cross. We thought it was a horrible death, and, to be sure, it is. But it’s something else. It is an exodus. It is the beginning and ending of a journey. It is a chrysalis. It is a crucible of transformation for each of us and for the whole creation. It is a new way, a new creation.

Today we get a glimpse of all the glory that comes out of that cross. Like the disciples, who carried this knowledge in their hearts through all the dark moments when they all but lost hope, we can carry the vision of Christ, through all the dark times, all the crosses we have to bear, all the struggles which make us want to just give up, all the times when we fall short, the times when we run away in fear, just as they did. We can carry the light of that heavenly presence. But, more importantly, Christ’s light and love can carry us, through anything and everything.

Amen.

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