March 3, 2019 – The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36 – The Transfiguration
Every year on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ and remember the vision of Christ’s glory given to his disciples, Peter, James, and John. The transfiguration of Christ occurred shortly after Jesus had first told his disciples about the suffering and death he was facing and about his resurrection: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). On the mountain Jesus is revealed, the dazzling light of his glory forever tied to his journey to Jerusalem, to his death, and to his resurrection. On the mountain Jesus receives God’s confirmation: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
The vision and God’s words lead us into Lent. We journey through Lent from one vision of Christ’s glory to another, from the transfiguration to the glorious vision of our risen Lord at Easter. During Lent we walk with Jesus on the hard road in between. We walk with him, upheld by the knowledge that he walks with us on whatever hard roads our journeys take us. During Lent we are especially mindful of the words Jesus said to his disciples after predicting his passion: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their 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. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:23-25).
On this last Sunday before Ash Wednesday I want to encourage you to plan to make the season of Lent a special time, a time set apart from the rest of the year. There are many, many ways to do that. Traditionally, Lent is a time for fasting and prayer and for intentionally deepening our connection with God. Many people fast from certain foods or drinks. If that is what you choose to do, consider pairing your fast with increased support for people in need or for the church. During the forty days of Lent put the money you would have spent on chocolate or potato chips or wine in a jar, and at the end of Lent give that money away. This can make the practice of fasting both spiritually rewarding for you and a benefit to others.
I have already suggested that you consider making a commitment to attend church every Sunday a Lenten discipline. Again, this can be both spiritually rewarding for you and a benefit to others. When each of you is here on Sunday morning, you add to spirit of the group assembled for worship. When you are absent, your presence is missed.
Of course, Lent is a season of repentance, when we are called to recollect and change what we know is keeping us from receiving God’s love and from growing in faith and in love for God, our neighbors and ourselves. We are all at different points in our spiritual growth. That means that each of us will have different blocks to faith and love – “sins,” if you want to use that language. It takes courage to look at ourselves honestly and see where and how we fail to live in the way of love. It takes even more courage to change what we do. Lent may be the right time for each of us to make a change. A word of caution: don’t aim too high too soon! It can be a temptation to set unrealistic spiritual goals for ourselves, goals we will surely fail to reach. With a humble spirit choose a small change to work on every day. Only step by step, with many false starts and failures, do we progress on the way of love.
This morning’s lesson from the book of Exodus is a portion of many chapters describing the law given by God to Moses for the guidance of God’s people. God summons Moses to climb Mount Sinai alone and to wait for God to give him the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. Once Moses was on the mountain we read that “the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day [God] 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 Hebrew Bible the visual form in which God appears to human beings is usually described as fiery or as enveloped in cloud or fire. You will remember that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. And during the exodus from Egypt, God led the people through the wilderness by going before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Scripture records that “Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” Moses entered the presence of God and remained in God’s presence for a long time. Further on in Exodus we have this morning’s passage: “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God.
We are made in the image of God and God’s light is meant to shine through us. Jesus said to the crowds he was teaching: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 4:14-16).
As people who love God we are called to let God’s light shine through us so that it may give light to others. It may be helpful to think about this in our Lenten self-examination. How is the light of God visible to others in and through us? How might we make that light brighter? How might we remove the “bushel basket” we willingly put over God’s light within us, whatever it is that dims the light?
Our lives are closely linked with others, in the world and in the church. We are called to love one another. We may think of loving others in terms of encouraging the light of God to shine through them. In our Lenten self-examination it might be useful to think of what we do and say to others that either encourages their light or dims their light. For example, do we support and encourage the goodness in others through our words and actions or do we discourage them with harsh judgment and unkind words? How might our light shine brighter by helping someone else to shine?
The Gospel of John begins with a description of Jesus as “the Word,” God’s power of creation and redemption. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
The light of Christ revealed at the Transfiguration was not overcome even by death on the cross, for Christ’s light shone brighter still on Easter morning. The light of the risen Lord will shine forever. As we travel through Lent this year, may we intentionally choose the light and reflect the light of God within ourselves and for others, for the love of Christ and to the glory of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.