Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Monday, February 12, 2024

YEAR B 2024 last epiphany

Last Epiphany, 2024
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9
Psalm 50:1-6

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So today is what we call, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which this year is also the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  As always, Epiphany was twelve days after Christmas, or, you know, January 6th.  There are certain times in the church year where we count time in relationship to significant days that have passed.  The Sundays after Epiphany is one.  The season after Pentecost is another one.  (Think, all the green stuff.)

Epiphany is sometimes called the season of light, because of the star that led the Magi to the manger.  And the end of Epiphany is yet another time where the church is about to be intentionally out-of-step with the world.  The biggest example of that rebellion is at Christmas; when the world is at its darkest—in our hemisphere—we are talking about light.  (That’s not unique to Christianity of course, since much of our Christmas symbolism is lifted straight out of pagan traditions.)  But the point is, in the midst of darkness, we talk about light.  There’s a poetic balance in this.

And now, this week, we will enter into the season of Lent.  Funny thing, as the days are growing longer, and a rodent in Pennsylvania has predicted our weather patterns, the church makes a decisive move into darkness, or, contemplation.  The world is turning toward light and rebirth, and we start focusing on mortality and sinfulness.  There’s a poetic balance in this too.

There’s a tradition in the church during Lent to downplay the beautiful things.  We figuratively “bury” the Alleluia; we usually cover all the shiny crosses; we stop all the chanting and singing the Gloria.  In a sense, we focus on the earthiness of things, the absence of glory.  And to get us ready for that journey into a somber six weeks, we get today’s gospel reading:  What we commonly call, The Transfiguration of Jesus.  And just to make things more confusing, I want to note we observe the Feast of Transfiguration on August 6th, along with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, while Lutherans and Methodists are celebrating that feast today.  So, for us, this is not Transfiguration Sunday, and yet, we still get this gospel reading about the Transfiguration.  We press on . . .

The reason I started with all that church year light and dark stuff is because I want to be sure we notice the joining of glory and earthly in this gospel text.  If I ask you what you noticed about that story, you’ll probably say the part where Jesus was all glowing more brightly than anyone could have bleached a cloth.  Or, you might remember that Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing next to him.  Or, if you’re more practically minded, you were wondering where exactly Peter was going to get a hammer and nails, let alone wood to build three dwellings on top of a desert mountain.  

But, really, the most startling thing has to be Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration of Jesus, right?  Jesus is revealed in all his glory, standing next to Moses and Elijah, two of God’s most celebrated servants, heroes of the faith.  It’s almost like heaven has come down to the top of this mountain, and the disciples are there to witness it.  The glory of Jesus is revealed!  Such a vision!  But, the message they get is not, “Behold the glory of the Lord!”  The message is not, “Check out this vision of awesomeness!”  No, the message they get is, “Listen to him.” It’s like someone takes you to the Massillon Museum and says, “Listen to these paintings!”  Or, "Come on up to the Altar and listen to these statues!"  What is going on here?

And the simple answer is, the disciples are really good at watching, but not so good at listening.  In Mark’s gospel, over and over Jesus says, “Let those who have ears listen.”  He says that like five times.  Why?  Well, here’s why:  Every time Jesus tries to tell the disciples something, they either don’t get it, or they say they don’t want to hear it.  Just a few verses before this reading, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, and Peter takes him aside and rebukes him, saying, this must never happen.  And now, next thing you know, they’re up on the mountain with a loud voice saying, “Listen to him.”  Listen.

But up on that mountain, the disciples see the glory of Jesus!  Brighter than bright.  Moses and Elijah.  Let’s build some houses and stay right here where everything is beautiful.  They love the glory of Jesus, and they don’t want to hear about any suffering.  And then—poof—everything is back to normal, and the disciples are alone with Jesus, standing on the mountain.  No glory, no Moses and Elijah, just them and Jesus.  And then they come back down the mountain, and Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they saw until he has risen from the dead.  

Now consider this for a moment . . . If that experience up on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah and the glorious Jesus was a glimpse of heaven, then Jesus is now coming down from heaven.  You could almost put it like this:  for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.  Jesus is coming down the mountain to where you and I are, because we cannot climb the mountain to meet him.  We can’t go up, so Jesus is coming down to get us.  And guess what?  He brings his glory with him.  Jesus doesn’t stop being God when he comes down the mountain.  It’s not like a magic switch went on and off up there on the mountain.  Jesus is still Jesus.

But, like the disciples, we naturally prefer the glory to the suffering and death.  We are all very good at pretending death can be kept away, or avoided.  Easter is a lot better than Good Friday.  We’d prefer happy days every day, if you don’t mind, Jesus.  Fortunately, for us, it’s not an either/or kind of thing.  Jesus is truly God and truly man.  And by going to the grave for us, Jesus overcomes the grave for us.  We can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.  And Jesus doesn’t get to the salvation of all without dying a real death himself.  

So here’s something to ponder as we enter into Lent:  We typically cover the beautiful shiny objects during this contemplative season, but they’re still there.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  Jesus comes down the mountain with the disciples to eat his meals and take baths in the river, but he is still God.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  The glory is still there, though hidden, and that voice tells us to stop looking and listen.  Listen to Jesus.

Jesus was transfigured in heavenly glory on the mountain, yes.  But more importantly, for us, and for our salvation, he came down that mountain, so that we might share in his victory over the grave.  May God give us the grace to listen to this beloved son, and to trust in what he says:  that he has brought —and continues to bring—life out of death, freedom to the prisoners, new life to those who are dead in sin.  Jesus is still speaking.  May God give us the grace to listen to him.


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