Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 27, 2022

YEAR C 2022 last epiphany

Last Epiphany, 2022
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36

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

I’m not gong to lie to you.  This is a hard Sunday to be the preacher.  We have terrifying world-changing events happening on the other side of the globe, which are somehow very close to us.  We are insanely and bitterly divided as American citizens.  We face catastrophic climate change, and racial animosity, and social alienation.  All that, just as we are finally peaking our heads out from a global pandemic, wondering if it is safe to leave our homes without wearing a mask.

We are living in a hard time.  I just want to be sure you hear me say that.  It is not a lack of faith to say that we are scared.  It is not hatred of our neighbor to say that we despise ruthless international aggression by despots.  It is not to say that we are against peace to side with the Ukrainians who are fighting tooth and nail to live their lives and raise their kids.

These are not political positions or talking points.  Real human beings just want to live their lives without being bombed and killed.  No matter what you think about what is happening, these are people.  Beloved children of God.  People in whom we have promised to seek and serve Christ.  Many times it is in the starkest moments that we are reminded of what we believe.  And, there are many times where the right response is to be silent, and wait to hear what God is saying to us.  Just. Be. Silent.

And so . . . here we have this reading describing what we call the Transfiguration.  What is going here?  What does it mean?  And why does it matter to us?  All good questions.  And . . . I have lots of thoughts.  But let’s start here.

Have you ever had that experience where you realize you don’t know what you’re talking about, but you find yourself talking anyway?  You know, like you’re faced with something overwhelming or incomprehensible, and you just start saying things you wouldn’t normally say?  Where you should be silent, you just start talking, or rambling, or trying to make things better?  I’ll come back to that.

This story we just heard is what we church people call “The Transfiguration of Jesus.”  And, of course, that’s why we sometimes mistakenly call today “Transfiguration Sunday,” which actually happens in August for us—sorry for being a church nerd.  But today is the final Sunday in the season of Epiphany.  The last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  The last chance to proclaim Alleluia, before we bury that word for Lent.

The church year started with the Incarnation at Christmas, where we could say the Divine joined with humanity.  And today, with this Transfiguration, we could say that humanity joins the Divine.  At Christmas, the Son of God takes human form to walk among us.  In the Transfiguration, the earthly Jesus shares the divine with us.

In today’s reading, heaven and earth are joined in the reverse fashion of Christmas.  In a way, it completes the cycle.  But, as it turns out, the real story is about to begin.  Everything from the shepherds watching their flocks by night right up until today is just prologue for the event that changes everything.  The promise that God makes everything right.

In Luke’s Gospel, this mountaintop experience is set up as the beginning of the end.  Jesus is about to “set his face toward Jerusalem.”  And Jerusalem is the focal point of Luke’s Gospel.  Every important event in Luke happens in Jerusalem, and specifically in the Temple there.  In a sense, this story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is where Luke’s Gospel is about to take off.  The nine chapters that come before today’s reading are like the introduction in Luke—getting us ready for the whole point of the story, where we will walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem, and toward his death at the hands of his enemies . . . which would be . . . us.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s go back to the mountain.

This whole scene is profound and mysterious.  Exactly who is revealing what to whom here?  I think our immediate thought is to view Moses and Elijah as giving Jesus some kind of instruction before he heads toward Jerusalem.  But it’s just as plausible to view it the other way around—as Jesus giving them an explanation of what he is about to do, reassuring them of the necessary plan.  The way it gets translated in our version is that “they were speaking of his departure . . . ”  That chosen word “departure” here is kind of unfortunate, since the Greek word is exodus, and that seems a little more fitting.  “Departure” to our modern ears sounds a bit like Jesus is going on a trip: like Moses and Elijah are taking him to the airport.  On the other hand, because of our experience with the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, the term “exodus” has more of a sense of being called out, of being led out of something, of heading for something important.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem to accomplish his exodus.  And what is Jesus’ exodus?

Well, just before today’s reading, Jesus tells the disciples he must undergo great suffering and be rejected and killed.  And then he says, if any want to become his followers, “they must take up their cross daily and follow me.”  That’s the set-up for today’s reading.  The way of salvation is to Jerusalem, which leads to the cross.  The way “out” is through the cross.  Jesus will not bypass the cross, and neither can we.  Even in this moment of shining glory, Jesus is talking about the cross.  Even when it seems everything is finally getting better for us, we have . . . all this.

Peter wants to build houses for the three of them.  Peter is thinking the story is over.  We won.  The Messianic Age has arrived, and so it’s time to build the permanent monuments of rest from which Jesus will rule.  But, as we’ve already said, this is the beginning of the story, not the end.

But . . . Peter is just lost here.  Peter is committed, and Peter understands.  But Peter will deny Jesus, and Peter does not understand.  And I think it is safe to say, we are all more like Peter than we care to admit.  We rightly call Jesus Lord, and, yet, we will deny seeking him in our neighbor.  We fully understand, and yet we are totally clueless.

Peter gets the bright idea to build booths for all of them, and you can see he regrets saying it, even as the words come out of his mouth.  Let us build booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for you, “not knowing what he said.”  Not knowing what he said.  In other words, not thinking before he spoke, right?  He just blurts it out, and probably wishes he hadn’t, even as the words are coming out of his mouth.  

After he suggests the building project, a cloud descends on them, the voice from heaven speaks.  And, “when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.  And they kept silent, and in those days told no one of what they had seen.”  And, I mean, can you blame them?  Remember, this is before the death of Jesus, which means before the resurrection, before the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.  Imagine trying to explain what they had just seen.  Their teacher, Jesus, hanging out with Moses and Elijah, and the voice from heaven . . . sometimes in the midst of mystery, the best thing to do is to keep silent.  When we don’t understand, when we are overwhelmed by what we see, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep silent.

And that’s where all this comes together today.  This is not a story about me or you.  This is a story about Jesus.  But then, it’s only natural to ask: If it’s not a story about you and me, then what does this rather odd story about Jesus mean to you and me?  
I think the answer is in that silence.  Silence can be golden.  Silence is respectful, comforting, appropriate.

Because for something to be overwhelming and incomprehensible doesn’t mean that it has to be glorious.  In our daily lives, it’s often quite the opposite, isn’t it?  We get overwhelmed by financial pressures, by unexpected illness, by the death of people we love, by invasions of peaceful countries.  We cannot comprehend the tragedies in our world, or in our neighbors’ lives, let alone in our own lives.  We stand in a place where words make no sense.  Sure some days are glorious: everybody’s got a job and everybody’s healthy, every country’s people are free to choose life.  But, you know, those days can be rare.  And sometimes, the only appropriate response to what we see is one of silence and prayer and support.  We don’t know what to say, and so we pray for peace, and life, and understanding.

And that response of silence and prayer is what we do.  As we stand at the threshold of Lent, we take up our own crosses and follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem., seeking to understand.  We are in a place where words make no sense.   We are in a place where our hearts ache for those who are suffering.  But in the midst of it all, we gather in this place to receive food for our Lenten journey.  We pray for peace, we seek to understand, and we open our hands to receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord.  Like Peter, we do not understand, and we stand with our open hands in a place where words make no sense, except for one.  And that word is “Amen.”  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

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