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The Last Sunday of Epiphany
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; I Corinthians 12:27-13:13; Luke 9:28-36
Overcast days can be really dreary, can’t they? It’s like the whole world is shrouded, darkened, gloomy. Some days I like that feeling, but others it can be harder to have a positive attitude. It can just put one in a glum mood, can’t it? One of my favorite things, though, is when there is a cloudy day, and I need to fly somewhere. Imagine with me: you’re taking off in a plane, on such a gloomy day. You get into the sky, dark and wet, and enter a cloud. Now you can see even less. You heave a deep sigh. But then, you see the first traces of something as the clouds begin to thin, towards the top. Finally, the plane bursts through the top of the cloud canopy, and you see the sun, bright and brilliant! The whole world, plain, dreary, gray, but just beyond those clouds, you see reality, you see the beautiful truth. The Sun hasn’t left, it’s just been hidden. That is the Transfiguration! Jesus appeared to everyone to be just a man, a simple, unremarkable man. But within that man shone the brilliance of God: He was God taken on flesh. And here, Jesus is showing his disciples who he really is.
Before we turn to Luke, I need to take us back to Exodus 24 and 34. It is here that we see something of who God truly is. Exodus 24:15-18 reads: “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.”
Humanity cannot see God as God really is. God is not just a really higher version of us, some super-human. God is utterly and completely transcendent, inexpressible, inexplicable, ineffable. Words are incapable of truly saying what it is to be God. And so the bare essence of God, the raw divine spirit revealed to a human being in full would destroy them.
And yet….This God reveals to us what we can bear. In the Old Testament, this was always done in a cloud, so that the pureness of God was still veiled. Like the Sun being hidden behind the clouds. God is everywhere, present in all the world, but at key points and in key places he draws back the curtain and lets humans see something of who God truly is.
And who is this God? The Triune God who is revealed most fully to us now in the person of Jesus Christ. To look at Jesus was to look at the incarnate God; to share in his life is to share in the life of God.
Now let us turn to Luke 9. What does it mean that Jesus is transfigured, changed? (It is metamorphoo, like metamorphosis. He is bodily changed in front of them.) Kids: you know how caterpillars work. You used to love the Very Hungry Caterpillar. They eat and eat and eat, and then finally, go into a cocoon. We even got some cocooned caterpillars for a science project once, remember? At the end of a certain amount of time, they metamorph, change, and come out a beautiful, dazzling butterfly.
Moses’ face shone from a brief and partial encounter with the Presence of God. Jesus himself is transfigured because he is the Divine Presence. Jesus in his humanity is like the clouds hiding the sun, but also the Sun itself! Past the veil of his true human flesh his person is also the Divine Son, God Incarnate. And here Jesus is revealed to be the God who saves, showing his disciples who he really is.
This fits, doesn’t it? Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, is also the almighty, transcendent, ineffable God. God, who loves us so that he come down to save us. A cloud descends on Jesus, a sure sign that God is Present, and he is again declared the Beloved Son of the Father. Moses and Elijah, the most significant of the Old Testament witnesses to God, now witness to Jesus, recognizing that even they serve him. The time had come, when all things would be reconciled to God. The Cross and the Resurrection were coming, and even for us, as we enter Lent on our way to Easter, we replay these events in our worship together.
The God whose Presence would destroy humanity is present with us, and here we see a glimpse of what is really true of Christ. He is the God who loves us enough to become one of us, and through suffering, death, and resurrection to save us from sin and death.
But there is even more to be said. Because it is not just Jesus who is transfigured. We who are baptized into him and believe in him will be made like him. Peter tells us that his transfiguration is a sign of what it will be like at his return, when he will come back and be just as he was there. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:26 tells us that the last enemy destroyed is death, and in vs. 49 that “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
What this means is this: We who believe and are baptized are in Christ, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and we too will one day be transfigured. We become by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature.
We will no longer be under the clouds, in the gloomy, gray world, but in the warm and blessed Presence of the Sun. To use my analogy again imperfectly, if the Sun is God, and we are the passengers on the plane, then it is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who are the plane that carries us from the ground to the heights, to the Presence of the Father.
And we, here, now, are to live as if this is already true. We, yet to be fully transfigured, are being transfigured through the Word, the Eucharist, fasting, prayer, and charity. We are to live as if our full transfiguration is already true. In Christ, we are already in the heavenly Presence. And one day, when the promise is fulfilled and we are completed and made holy by the Spirit, one with Christ, we will see the inexplicable, inexpressible, ineffable Presence of God. And we will not be consumed, but dwell with shining faces in the divine peace forever.
There is nothing left to say. There is nothing more that can express what awaits us as God’s children. Let the end of Epiphany, and the beginning of Lent, give expression to our transfigured promise, as ones who repent of what they were in order to follow the Christ who has manifested himself to us. Amen.
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