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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany February 26, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99, 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, February 26, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
High mountains –
wild and lonely places
of stark beauty,
          vast vistas,
                   dizzying perspectives,
where the air is cold and thin,
These are                                       
liminal places,
threshold places,
where the veil between earth
          and heaven dissolves,
mystical places of testing,     
of encounter
with self,
with past and future,
with God
and God’s call.

And this is where we find Jesus,
and Peter, James and John today,
this last Sunday of Epiphany . . .
the season of revelation,
the season of,
as we sang at the beginning of the liturgy,
God in man made manifest:
          in the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus,
          in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan,
          in the wedding feast at Cana,
                   changing water into wine . . .
and finally,
on a high mountain,
God in man
made manifest in Jesus in transfigured glory,
the veil of his flesh translucent
          to the radiance of God within.
Moses and Elijah
pre-eminent figures     
in the Hebrew Scriptures,
are seen in earnest conversation
with him.

no stranger to
mystical mountaintop encounters
with God . . .
Moses, Law-receiver, Law-giver,
who on the summit of Mt. Sinai
received from God
the ten commandments,
the foundation of God’s covenant
          with the people of Israel.
Elijah, prophet,
who defeated the false prophets of Ba’al,
resuscitated the dead son of the widow of Zarephath,
was snatched up alive to heaven
                   in a whirlwind.
Moses and Elijah,
symbolizing the entirety
of the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures . . .
the sacred writings of the Jews
often summed up as
                   “the Law and the Prophets.”

In this mountaintop encounter
Jesus was thus revealed
to be
the fulfillment
of the Hebrew scriptures,
as he himself claimed,
when he said,
“Do not think that I have come
to abolish the law or the prophets;
I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.”                     [Matthew 5.17]
The season of Epiphany
completes the
Advent / Christmas / Epiphany liturgical cycle,
revealing Sunday after Sunday
who we were waiting for
          in Advent,
who was born that first Christmas night
          in Bethlehem.
The gospels 
for the Epiphany season
do not give us a comprehensive overview
of Jesus’ three-year ministry
          of preaching, teaching, healing . . .

but chosen moments,
glimpses of the divinity cloaked
by his humanity
for those with eyes to see . . .
. . . the revelation of God
living and moving and having God’s being
in God’s own creation
among God’s own people . . .
          in that particular man,
          in that particular place,
          at that particular time in history.
This is
the meaning of the birth of the infant,
the meaning of the words and actions
          of the adult.
On the first Sunday
of the Epiphany season,
(seven weeks ago)
we celebrated
the baptism of Jesus
in the river Jordan.

As Jesus came up from the water,
“suddenly the heavens were opened to him
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and alighting on him.
“And a voice from heaven said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved,
          with whom I am well pleased.”                     [Matthew 4.16b,c]
Immediately he was led
by the Spirit of God into the wilderness
          of the Judean desert,
another liminal
          threshold place,
                   of severe beauty,
wild and lonely,  
a mystical place of testing,
          (signified by the arrival of the devil
          and the devil’s enticements),
mystical place
of encounter
with self,
with past and future,
with God,
          and God’s call.

After 40 days Jesus returned
          from that sere and solemn time,
focused and strengthened
to begin his ministry
          of proclaiming
                   and enacting the Kingdom of God.
Now, on this last Sunday of the season,
on a high mountain,
as Jesus confers
          with Moses and Elijah,
          two long-dead
                   heroes of his faith
                             suddenly present with him . . .
a bright cloud descends to enfold them
and the voice speaks again,
          out of the cloud,
“This is my Son the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!”
For Jesus,
it was his identity, his ministry, his mission,
          his destiny confirmed.

For now his ministry takes its
crucial turn –
Coming down from the mountain,
he sets his face toward Jerusalem,
and the culmination of his mission
which will be,
in the eyes of the world,
          a humiliation and a failure  . . .
                   betrayal by his own people
                   and execution on the cross
                             by the Roman occupiers of his country.
. . . A humiliation and a failure 
that his followers,
after his resurrection,
will come to understand
as his final victory
for all people and all time.

For Peter,
writing after the resurrection,
the memory of that day on the high mountain,
          the dazzling vision of the transfigured Jesus,
          the fearsome voice speaking from the cloud,
was the great revelation
“the power and coming
of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
the prophetic message
more fully confirmed . . .”
By faith,
we, too,
behold his glory,
with that message
firmly implanted in our hearts,
we turn
toward the season of Lent:
the church’s springtime
the beginning of the
Lent / Holy Week / Easter liturgical cycle . . .

when we contemplate ever more deeply
the meaning of the cross:
          the paradox
                    of victory in defeat,
                    of power made manifest in weakness,
                    of new life springing out of death.
As we prepare for baptism at the Easter Vigil,
or to renew the vows of our baptism,
          our incorporation into the risen life of Jesus,
cross and Easter Day attest,
God in man made manifest.
As we come around again
to each season in the church’s year,
we find ourselves
in conversation with it
in new ways,
according to what is going on
          in the world,
          in our country
          in our community,
          in our own lives.

In this bizarre
troubled and troubling political season
          in the life of our country,
what does it mean
to have seen once again
in Epiphany’s feast of revelations
the undeniable presence of God
          in Christ?
How might our Lenten journey
of self-examination and repentance,
prayer, fasting, and self-denial,
reading and meditating on God’s holy word,
alms-giving and service,
shape us
to live faithfully, courageously, prophetically
in these times?
And of what will Holy Week speak,
when we experience again
Jesus’ courage and trust in God
in his final confrontation
with the arrogance and brutality
          of the Roman occupiers of his country
and the weakness and fear 
          of his own religious leaders . . .
his self-offering on the cross
for the life of the world.

Mountains surround us
in this astonishing land
          that is the Pacific Northwest,
and some of us
may even hike
to a summit or two,
and perhaps experience
an epiphany of our own there . . .
God being deeply present 
in every aspect of God’s creation.
But there is a weekly mountaintop
we can all come to,
our Sunday liminal place,
a holy and beautiful place
of encounter
with self,
with past and future,
with God,
          and God’s call.
A place of epiphany:
The liturgy,
our worship,
that place where
week after week
world without end
lovers of the risen Jesus
gather in his promised presence:

Jesus manifest in the body gathered,
revealed to his assembled followers
          in song and prayer,
                   in Word and Sacrament,
                             in gesture and action
Jesus speaking to us
through the Scriptures
and giving himself,
his very being, his very life
          in the bread and wine
                   of Communion,
                   of union with him and one another.            
Like Jesus,
and Peter, James and John,
we can’t stay here on this mountain.
Even if, these days,
we might want to build a bunch
of little booths,
one for each of us.
Our vocation is always to go
to go out,
so that the new light of Christ
shining in our hearts
may give to the world the knowledge
of God’s glory in Christ.

The voice of God
says to us, here,
on this mountain,
“This is my Son the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!”
Listen to him
in Word and Sacrament,
in each another,
in the voices of all who
call forth God’s kingdom
of mercy, justice, peace, love.
The first thing Jesus said
to Peter, James and John
after the cloud lifted
and he prepared to go down the mountain
and to Jerusalem:
“Get up and do not be afraid.”
“[We] would do well to be attentive to this word
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns
and the morning star rises in our hearts.”