super signs

preachinga sermon, based on Luke 9.28-43a, preached with the people Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2016

Today, we gather within the larger American context of Super Bowl Sunday; the 50th anniversary of this iconographic sports and, for millions of people worldwide, involving billions of dollars, cultural event. What an amazing coincidence that on this day, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, we reflect on the most stupendous, most super of Jesus’ epiphanies, his revelations of who he is.

The Transfiguration by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael), 1518-20

Let us place this event in its scriptural context.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.”[1] His identity confirmed, it’s important that Jesus establish what kind of Messiah he is, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and be killed, and on the third day be raised”[2] and, therefore, what kind of disciples they are, “If you want to be my followers, deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”[3]

Hard words to hear and heed. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They have heard his great teaching, beheld his grand miracles, experienced the wonder of his love. Now this! The promise of his suffering and death and their self-sacrifice. What on earth would, could compel them to keep going, to continue following? Perhaps nothing on earth, but rather a heavenly sign of their destination, verily, their destiny.

“Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” There, the first sign. Jesus is transfigured; his face, his clothing blindingly bright. The Greek indicates that Jesus does not reflect, but rather radiates light. This transfiguration is effulgent; the external showing forth of the internal glory of God.

Second sign. “Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear, speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he will accomplish in Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah, representing God’s Law and the prophets, testify to the truth of all that Jesus has told his disciples about his suffering and death and the necessity of their self-denial.

Third sign. If the disciples want or need additional evidence, proof of Jesus’ identity, the vox Deus, the voice of God resounds from the heavens, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”

The transfiguration of Jesus beautifully is given voice in an Epiphany hymn of praise:

Manifest on mountain height, shining in resplendent light,

where disciples filled with awe Thy transfigured glory saw,

When from there Thou leddest them steadfast to Jerusalem,

cross and Easter Day attest God in man made manifest.[4]

Jesus, who will die and be raised, is the Messiah, the revelation, the revealer of God!

So, now what? What do we do with this story? We weren’t there. We didn’t see it. And that’s a good thing.

Peter, doubtless speaking also for John and James and us, had an idea: “Let’s build houses!” We can’t blame him. We’d want to stay, too. But funny thing about this and any other mountaintop transfiguration when God’s glory unmistakably is revealed. They don’t last. Transfigurations, which, I believe, appear in numerous ways – a ray of sunlight through dark clouds, a brilliant rainbow after a storm, a kind word when we’re discouraged, a tender touch when tired, forgiveness when we have offended, acceptance when all we see is the worst about ourselves – come as splendid serendipity, beyond our power to command or control, to encourage us to continue our life’s journey with Jesus.

Funny thing about transfigurations. They don’t last.

But “on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain”, a man begging that his ailing son be made whole approached Jesus, who healed the boy.

This is an epiphany that the transfiguration on the mountaintop may not last, but it can be repeated in our daily living. Wherever, whenever you and I, through word and deed, transform discord into harmony, despair into hope, disappointment into forgiveness, sorrow into joy, there is a transfiguration moment when we are signs of the revelation of the glory of God.

“God in man made manifest…” In Jesus, yes, and also in us!

 

Illustration: The Transfiguration (1518-1520) by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael) depicting Jesus (center, aloft) in his radiant transfigured glory on the mountain, Moses on his left (holding the tablets of the 10 Commandments), Elijah on his right, and Peter, John, and James, in shuddering awe, immediately under them. (The two figures on the mountaintop kneeling on the left are the martyrs, Saint Agapitus and Saint Felicissimus, deacons murdered during the persecutions of Emperor Valerian; their presence expressive of Rafael’s artistic license with scripture.) Below, the rest of the disciples (on the left) gesturing (pointing) in their consternation at having been unable to heal the man’s son (Luke 9.40), who (on the right, bare to the waist) is in the midst of a (possibly epipleptic) seizure and being held in the embrace of his father.

Footnotes:

[1] Luke 9.20

[2] Luke 9.22

[3] Luke 9.23-24, paraphrased

[4] The Hymnal 1982, #135, verse 4; words by F. Bland Tucker

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4 thoughts on “super signs

  1. Great sermon Paul!

    I love the three signs of the Transfiguration! Who wouldn’t believe Light, verification of what Jesus said and the necessity of self-denial AND God’s voice of confirmation? I think even some non-believers would believe when there are three strong signs of verification.

    Your words that I believe really helps us in today’s world is knowing that depending on HOW we live our lives, we can create our own transfiguration moments. I think I’ve experienced two of these moments in the last few weeks. I gave someone hope, and did two good deeds (one of which I really didn’t want to do at first) which warmed me inside. For me, I believe we need these transfiguration moments to keep going through the tough times, because they give us hope and strength to go on. Thankfully we can repeat these moments even if we may be sad that these special moments don’t last.

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    • Yes, I do believe that transfiguration moments can and do keep us going, and, as I perceive it, in our journey with Jesus. As I continue to contemplate this, it occurs to me that no matter what we intend, even and especially for good, we cannot be assured something is transfiguring or transforming, for that, I think, rests in how it is perceived or adjudged by the receiver. Transfiguration, I suppose, by its very nature, is laden with inherent serendipity. Thanks, as always, Loretta, for reading and commenting.

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      • Hmmmm, I understand your point about transfiguration being based on how it is perceived by the receiver and I trust you (especially given that you’re the priest), but I also believe that something (maybe it’s not as big as transfiguration) must occur on the givers end as well or we’d be hard pressed to continue to do good (even though that’s what we should do). Maybe the word I’m looking for is motivation, not transfiguration, though I truly feel “called” to do some of the things I’ve done in my past that I would never have thought to do on my own.

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      • YES! Loretta, motivation is a grand word. Now that you share it, I think, too, of intention. So, now, on third thought, it dawns on me that though we never can determine or dictate how our actions may or must be viewed and recorded, our motivations/intentions do count for something in the divine economy of cause-effect, giving-receiving, purpose-fruit. Thanks!

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