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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany February 7, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY Year C
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
 
Christ Church, Tacoma Washington
Sunday, February 7, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet B. Campbell
 
 
 
On the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
we find ourselves each year
with Peter, James, and John,
high on a mountain with Jesus.
 
A mountain,
a place where the veil
          between earth and heaven grows thin,
and it seems almost possible
          to reach out and touch
                   the untouchable God,
or,
that God may reach out
          and touch us.   
 
A chill, rocky, isolated place
of visions and voices.
 
A place where the final epiphany
of this season of epiphanies occurs,
 
and Jesus is definitively shown
to be what was proclaimed at his baptism,
God’s chosen, God’s Son.
 

And it occurs
following his first prediction
of his passion.
 
Only eight days
before going up the mountain,
Jesus had told his disciples
that his destiny
was great suffering and death
at the hands of his enemies.
 
Then he said to them,
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross daily
and follow me.”                                        [Luke 9:18-23]
 
 
Anxious days
those eight days must have been
          for Jesus and for his disciples:
 
Did Jesus wonder,
after he had at last
          dared to speak aloud
                    of this suffering and death,
if there might be some other way . . . ?
 
And did the disciples,
baffled and afraid,  
whisper their uncertainties to one another
          in the dark before sleep?
 
 
So Jesus took with him
Peter and James and John
and went up on a mountain
to pray.
 
As he prayed
his face became transparent
          to the divinity within,
his clothes dazzling white,
          shot through with holy light,
blinding in its brightness.
 
Moses and Elijah appeared,
two great figures in Israel’s history
also revealed in glory . . .
 
Moses the Liberator,
who brought the people of Israel
          out of slavery in Egypt,
 
Moses the Law-giver,
who talked with God on Mount Sinai
          and received the tablets
          of the Ten Commandments.
 
Elijah the Wonderworker,
through whom God raised the dead son
          of the Widow of Zarephath,
 
Elijah the Prophet of God,
first among the prophets
in the time of the apostate Kings of Israel.
         
 
Moses and Elijah,
symbols of God’s freeing and healing work in Israel,
          coming to fulfillment in Jesus.
 
Moses and Elijah,
symbols of the Law and the Prophets,
          (a common term for the Hebrew Scriptures),
 
affirming what Jesus himself had said:
          that he came not to abolish,
                   but to fulfill,
                   the Law and the Prophets.
                                                                         [Mt. 5:17-19]
 
Moses and Elijah,
speaking with Jesus
“of his departure
which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
 
Affirmation of the path he had chosen
and encouragement
          as he prepared to walk it.
 
 
Peter, James, and John, meanwhile,
were in a trance-like state,
in the grip of a “religious experience.”
 

Caught up in the glorious
          and astonishing vision,
Peter blurted out his desire
to build dwelling places
for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus,
shrines, in effect,
so this mountaintop moment
might last forever.
 
 
Suddenly a thick, chill cloud
enveloped the three disciples,
quelling that ambition;
ecstasy gave way to terror.
 
They sank to the ground,
a voice reverberating in their heads:
“This is my Son, my Chosen;
listen to him!”
 
And then it was over.
Jesus stood before them, alone,
 
and everything was as it had been.
 
Or . . . was it?
 
The three disciples
had been given powerful signs
of Jesus’ divinity
although they didn’t fully understand them
                   at the time.
 

But they would remember
this experience
after his death and resurrection,
and be strengthened
to face their own trials
          as his followers.  
         
Jesus himself was surely strengthened
in his resolution
to continue in the way
he had already been going,
          despite his certainty
                   of how it would end.
 
And so he led
Peter, James, and John
back down the mountain:
back to the other disciples
and the clamoring crowds
                    of the sick and the wounded,
back to an epileptic boy
          and his anxious father,
back to the hurts and needs
of all the world.
 
 A religious experience
like that of the three disciples
is both touchstone and temptation.
 
When doubts emerge,
when the elation fades,
the memory of that experience 
is a touchstone for faith.
But the memory is also a temptation:
woe to the one who turns back
longing to re-capture the spiritual high,
and is diverted from the real meaning
of discipleship –
 
For discipleship is the discipline
of dutiful listening to Jesus and following him
in the ordinary-ness of everyday-ness:
of going to school, to work, to church,
to the dentist, the grocery store, the park, a concert;
of losing a job, finding a job, beginning again in retirement;
a vocation of homework, housework,
mowing the lawn, taking out the recycling;
 
(even monks and nuns
have to wash dishes and do laundry. . .)
 
a vocation of visiting a lonely someone, bearing an illness,
          voting in an election;
of helping immigrants in the detention center,
volunteering at an animal shelter, giving a friend a ride;
of leading prayers, carrying a processional cross,
singing in a choir, cleaning the baptismal font.
 
Discipleship is doing everything we do
listening to and following Jesus Christ.
 
 
Our Sunday worship
is a kind of mountaintop for us –
we gather apart from the world
(although bearing with us
the world’s hurts and hopes and needs).
Here Jesus our companion
is revealed again
as God’s Beloved Son –
in the Word proclaimed,
in the Bread broken and the Wine poured out,
in the worshipping Body we become,
his Risen Body,
knit together by Word and Sacrament –
 
But to be realistic,
Sunday is not usually
a mountaintop experience.
 
Once in a while there may be an epiphany,
little or large, 
or,
it may be just another ordinary Sunday –
we stand, sit, kneel;
sing, pray, proclaim;
eat, drink, give thanks.
And then we leave.
 
Our worship is not about generating
experiences;
it is our regular Sunday being-with-Christ,
part of the daily-ness and discipline
of discipleship:
of
listening together to God’s Beloved Son,
sharing together in the bread of life
          and cup of salvation,
being evermore formed
          in the pattern of his dying and rising,
and sent into the world to be about his work.
 
In today’s collect,
the prayer that collects our intentions
          at the beginning of the liturgy,
we prayed that,
“beholding by faith the light of [Jesus’] countenance,
[we] may be strengthened to bear our cross,
and be changed into his likeness
from glory to glory.”
 
And what is that cross
but the ordinary daily-ness
of following Jesus  
in sickness and in health,
in sorrow and in joy,
in poverty and in wealth,
in war and in peace,
in oppression and in freedom,
in failure and in success,
in disappointment and in hope
in fear and in faith.
 
We bear our cross
and seek to become like Jesus,
not for our own sake
but for the sake of his costly love for the world.
 
This is the life and work and joy of the disciple.
 
 
Lent,
toward which we now turn
from today’s mountaintop,
is an invitation to
renew ourselves
in daily listening and 
          daily following,
the daily giving of our lives
          on the cross of self-offering . . .
 
As we think about how we will spend
our Lent,
we should not be trying to create
some kind of mountaintop experience . . .
 
rather we might plan
a steady, thoughtful, prayerful walk
with Jesus and one another
toward Easter,
 
toward Easter
and the celebration of baptism
and the renewal of our baptismal covenant . .
 
for it is that covenant
(found on pages 304-305
          of the Book of Common Prayer),
           
It is that covenant
that is the guide
to our life of discipleship.
 
 
Lent is our penitential season,
for in order to live and grow with Christ
we must with some regularity
take a good look
at our failures to hear and to follow.
 
We have not been the best of disciples.
 
As hard as we listen,
as diligently as we follow,
we understand only partially,
and respond less than perfectly . . .
 
But there is a relief and a joy
in such coming clean,
 
and a relief and a joy in returning to
the simple unforced practices of a faithful life.
 
What we have to look forward to today,
          from this mountain,
what we are to be about in Lent
is well captured in
          the seasonal preface to the Eucharistic prayer:
 
“You bid your people cleanse their hearts
and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast:
that fervent in prayer and in works of mercy,
and renewed by your Word and Sacraments,
they may come to the fullness of grace
which you have prepared for those who love you . . .”   [BCP 379]
 
It is appropriate
that we celebrate
the transfiguration of Jesus
on this Last Sunday before Lent.
 
Some have seen
in the glory of the transfigured Jesus
a vision
of the resurrected Christ . . .
 
when, according to the
8th century Benedictine monk Ambrosius Autpertus
Jesus "was changed to a different form,
          not of nature, but of glory."                        Wikipedia, “The Transfiguration”
 
“. . . a different form, not of nature, but of glory.”
 
 
And it’s toward the glory of resurrection
we now turn,
as we come down from the mountain of transfiguration
to walk the Lenten path before us.
 
 
On one hand it cautions the disciples, and hence the reader, that the glory of the Transfiguration, and the message of Jesus, can only be understood in the context of his death and resurrection, and not simply on its own
We have a glimpse here of his resurrection body,  the Benedictine monk Ambrosius Autpertus directly linked the Supper at Emmaus appearance in Luke 24:39 to the Transfiguration narrative of Matthew 17:2, and stated that in both cases, Jesus "was changed to a different form, not of nature, but of glory."
 
Transfiguration is read on the second Sunday of Lent, whose liturgy emphasizes the role the Transfiguration had in comforting the Twelve Apostles, giving them a powerful proof of his divinity, and a prelude to the glory of the Resurrection on Easter and the eventual salvation of his followers in view of the seeming contradiction of his Crucifixion and death.