a priest's musings on the journey

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sermon: Last Epiphany Year A 03 February, 2008

Just a little over a month ago, we gathered in this holy house of prayer, knelt in darkness, lit candles, sang “Silent Night”, and offered thanksgiving to God for the gift of Light that was given by God to disperse the darkness of sin and death in our lives. The children were given a star on Christmas Eve, reminding them that the Light from heaven that shone on that first Christmas Night, now shines in their hearts and guides their way through the dark places of their lives. On the evening of the Feast of the Epiphany, we gathered for a Service of Light, and once again lit the candles we had first lit on Christmas Eve- but this time, instead of extinguishing them after the service, we carried the Light out into the world, and accepted our call to allow the Light of Christ to burn brightly in our hearts- through our words and actions- so that the shadows of sin and death in our community might be illuminated by the brightness of Christ spreading more and more among us.

During Advent we lit candles and read the words of the Prophets which offered us hope that darkness and gloom created by evil would not last forever, and that one day God’s salvation would come and obliterate the darkness once and for all. In these days after the Epiphany, we have seen this Light of Peace and Hope revealed to us and to all the world in the person of Jesus Christ- and on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, we are taken with Peter, James, and John to the top of the mountain in order to see God shining through Christ in dazzling brilliance. We call this moment when Peter, James and John saw the appearance of Jesus change “the Transfiguration of our Lord”. But this was no metamorphosis of the person of Jesus- because Jesus wasn’t really changed at all. It was the three apostles whose eyes were opened so that they could perceive the full revelation of who Christ is- and as they beheld that revelation, they saw the glory of God emanating from Jesus- a glory so brilliant that Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes appeared to be dazzling white. And as they gazed upon this splendorous vision, they saw Moses and Elijah- two of the most important figures in the Hebrew Story of Salvation- bearing witness to the coming of God among humankind in the person of Jesus Christ- and the witness of the prophets is affirmed by a voice from heaven- much like the voice that was heard by John at Jesus’ Baptism- announcing that Jesus is God’s Son with whom God is well-pleased. Peter was so mesmerized by the vision of God in Christ that he didn’t want to leave the mountain- I imagine he must have thought that he had been transported to the heavenly places- that God had come to dwell on earth- and he didn’t want to leave- and who could blame him?

But as glorious as this vision of Christ was, it wasn’t given to theses three apostles in order to transport them to glory. It was given to them so that they could have a glimpse of the future glory that would be revealed when Christ would once and for all overcome the oppression of sin and death, and when all things would be brought under subjection to Christ and God’s Reign of Peace and Justice. This vision of the radiance of God emanating through Jesus was given to the apostles to strengthen them for the path of sorrow and suffering that lay ahead of them. And soon the voice from Heaven was no longer audible, Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the appearance of Jesus returned to that of any other human being. But everything had changed: Jesus descended the holy mountain and began his journey to Jerusalem- and the apostles followed him on the way of the Cross- not fully understanding what had happened or what Jesus meant when he talked about his death and his rising from the dead.

We read the account of this Transfiguration of our Lord on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany because everything is about to change for us as well. We too are descending the holy mountain where we have seen the radiance of God’s glory in Jesus Christ- and we are about to pass through the valley of the shadow of death- as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage of penitence and self-examination. We begin our Lenten journey by peering into the ultimate darkness that awaits us when we begin the pilgrimage of our death. We trade the dazzling brightness of the mountain of Transfiguration for ashes and a cross and a reminder that we are dust, and to dust we will return. And for 40 days we will carry that cross, following the steps of our Savior , leading us to Jerusalem, to an Upper Room, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and finally to death on Calvary. But it is the Light that we have been carrying with us since Advent- and indeed the Light of Christ that was given to us at baptism- that illuminates the shadows of the Valley of Lent; it is this Light that keeps the lamp of hope burning in our hearts- a hope that tells us that no matter how dark the night- the morning is coming- a hope that tells us that no matter how many times we fail to love God and our neighbor, that there is mercy and forgiveness in God’s Love for us- a hope that foreshadows the end of our Lenten journey- when we see the fullest revelation of God in Christ as the newly blessed fire ignites the Paschal Candle and we shine its light in the darkness of the Nave scattering the gloom of Good Friday and announcing that the Light of Christ is present and is growing more and more brilliantly until it illuminates the entire universe with the incomprehensible radiance of the life of God that fills and sustains all things. The radiant vision of the Transfiguration enables us to hope and see with the eyes of faith that even a darkness that consumes the entire universe as humankind kills God on the Cross can not resist the incomprehensible Light of God- which begins to radiate from the pierced heart of God as blood and water stream from Jesus’ side, and overtakes the darkness of evil more and more until it bursts forth in Resurrection.

And there lies our greatest hope: because if God can overcome the darkness of death and fill all things with God’s glorious presence, then we can hope that God will enlighten our hearts when we feel overwhelmed by the darkness; when we feel lost among the shadows and don’t know which way to turn; when we feel hopeless and helpless and think the world is about to crash over us. I remember last summer when Zac and I visited the Linville Caverns in the mountains of NC. As the tour was ending the guide announced that he was going to turn out the lights- and as no natural light is visible in the cave- we would experience utter darkness- a darkness that blinded the trout that live in the cold waters that flow in the caverns. I’ve never experienced such a void, and I thought- this is what it is like to be absent from God: that’s what darkness and the death of sin – or hell if you prefer to use that label- must be like- the absence of God- the absent of the radiance of God’s glory- But thanks be to God- our hope is that reality is no longer possible, because Christ is in all and with all, and even in our darkest night, God kindles a fire that never dies away, and that lamp of God’s Love guides our path to the way of redemption- out of the threatening darkness into God’s Shalom.

As you journey to the remembrance of the hour of your death on Wednesday, hold the Light of this day in your heart- as the writer of the Second Epistle of Peter writes, “let it be like a lamp shining in a dark place” – until the Light of Christ shines in its fullness through you on that day when you too experience the full revelation of this vision of glory as you behold God face to face. And until then, as you make your pilgrimage to Jerusalem- let this light emanate from your heart and illumine the path of others searching for light in their darkness. As you travel through the shadows of Lent with the lamp of hope share the hope which we have been given; seek out the oppressed and the suffering and reach out to them with Christ’s compassion and mercy so that the Light of Christ will be ignited in their hearts- and the darkness of evil will be diminished more and more- until we behold the ineffable radiance of God in all things on that Eternal Easter Day.

Thanks be to God.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 1:41 PM | link | 2 comments |