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Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A RCL March 6, 2011

Exodus 24: 12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1: 16-21
Matthew 17: 1-9

 This Sunday, we leave the season of Epiphany, with its focus on light and mission, and move into the season of Lent, in which we walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord. The Epiphany star gives way to the Cross of Christ.

 In our opening lesson from the Book of Exodus, God calls Moses to go up on Mt. Sinai and to wait there. Moses goes up the mountain with his assistant, Joshua. During their absence, Aaron and Hur will lead the people and settle any disagreements among them.

 The holiness of God is emphasized. A cloud covers the mountain. The glory of the Lord settles on Mt. Sinai.  The revered biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The glory is light, the light of God’s sovereign will and presence.” (Texts for preaching, Year A, p. 66). The glory of the Lord appears like a devouring fire. God is so holy and so powerful that only Moses is allowed to go up further into God’s presence. He is there for forty days and forty nights, a way of saying he is there for a very long time. And then he comes down with the Ten Commandments of the law, the framework that is going to hold God’s people together.

 Our epistle for today was written by a disciple of Peter. In those days, as we have noted before, it was common to claim the name of the teacher, in this case, Peter, in order to emphasize that, if Peter were here, this is what he would say.  Scholars tell us that the letter was written sometime between 100 and 150 A.D. We can imagine that this disciple of Peter spent a great deal of time with Peter and tried to learn everything he could from this great apostle. Peter had told this disciple about his experience on the mountain as Jesus became transfigured right in front of Peter and James and John, and, to the disciple, this experience became as real as if he himself had experienced it. As we move into Lent, one sentence rings out very clearly from this epistle reading: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” We who live in this age of electricity may have trouble understanding how much this image of light meant to folks of the first or second century A.D. During a hard night of struggle, if you had a lamp to help you get through until morning, that was a great blessing. The memory of Christ transfigured on the mountain will shine in our hearts all through Lent.

In the verses of Matthew’s gospel just preceding our passage for today, some very important things have happened. Jesus has asked the disciples that crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?’ and Peter has answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And then Jesus has begun to tell the disciples what he is going to have to go through, that he is going to suffer and die and then rise. And Peter can’t take it, and he draws Jesus aside and says, Lord, this can’t happen to you. This is too horrible. And that’s how all of them feel, And that is how all of us feel.

 Then he takes them up on the mountain and he is transfigured. He is transformed. And Moses and Elijah are there, two great prophets who also went into God’s presence on the mountain, and they are talking to Jesus. And Peter blurts out that thing about building three dwellings, which I take as a very human attempt to preserve the mountaintop experience. And then the overpowering light of the presence of God comes with the cloud , and God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples are terrified; we remember that they would have believed in those days that you could not look into the face of God and live. So they fall to the ground and are overcome by fear.

 They are terrified. They are cowering on the ground expecting to die at any moment.  They have gotten very close to the awesome power of God. Too close, they think.

And then what happens? Jesus comes over and touches them. He says, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And when they dare to look up, Moses and Elijah are gone. They see only the familiar, beloved face of Jesus.

Imagine what it would have been like to be Peter or James or John, and to have had that experience.

 Just before the transfiguration, when he is talking with his disciples, Jesus tells them and us that we are going to have to take up our cross and follow him, that we are going to have to lose our lives in order to save our lives, in other words, we are going with him to the cross.

 And on our way, and when we get there, we are going to learn how the awesome power of God is exercised and used. Not in gathering armies, not in overpowering people or nations, not in any of the ways we might think power is ordinarily used.

 It is the way of compassion, of letting go, and letting God, of emptying ourselves and letting God come in and transform us so that Christ lives in us. The way of the cross is the way of transformation. At this pivotal moment as we leave Epiphany and prepare for Ash Wednesday, we have before us the vision of our transfigured Lord because he wants to transfigure and transform us so that we can become more like him.

 This can seem quite terrifying to us and we can feel like falling to the ground in fear. And we may do that. Or we may try to run or avoid in some other way his call to transformation. But then he does this simple thing. He comes over and touches us and invites us to stand up, and he reassures us. He tells us not to be afraid. After all, he is with us. He is leading and guiding us. He is walking with us. We are walking with him.

 On a journey to the cross. On a journey to new life. And the vision of our Lord transfigured is “like a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [our] hearts.”

                                                                    Amen 

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