My friends, this Sunday brings to a close the season of Epiphany. It began with light as the magi followed a star to find Jesus. The whole season has been about the revealing of light – the light of God’s love made manifest as Jesus is revealed in new ways.
In the story of Jesus’ transfiguration read this morning, the light is brighter than ever before but it doesn’t last long; the moment passes quickly, and as Jesus moves toward Jerusalem, and his passion and death, we move into the season of Lent. One more splurge with the Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper this week, followed by a more somber and reflective `holy pause’ on Ash Wednesday at 11:00 AM.
As we enter the Season of Lent when the light of Epiphany diminishes, we will have opportunity to reflect on what glimpse of God’s glory and God’s mystery we carry with us, as a lamp in times of darkness.
The gospel reading from Matthew 17 begins: “Six days later…” So yes, we need to know what happened six days before. In the previous chapter, Jesus says to his disciples, `Who do people say I am?’ They tell him what they’ve heard. Then he asks, “Who do you say I am? When Peter proclaims him to be the Messiah, Jesus tells him that he is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter has another plan… I know, if someone told me that I was going to suffer, or they were, I would immediately look for Plan B. Nonetheless, Jesus is determined and begins the journey. Then we hear `Six days later…” So I wonder what feelings and thoughts the disciples & Jesus might be struggling with as this chapter of their lives begins?
There,in the intimacy and isolation of the mountain top, Jesus undergoes some sort of change, some sort of visible intensification and suddenly he’s not alone. They are not alone. There are two others – Moses and Elijah. Are you curious about how the disciples knew it was these two characters from 1400 to 800 years ago? I asked this at a Bible study in Williams Lake and my friend Barbara piped up, “It could have been the name tags!” She was helpful like that 🙂
Well, so why are they there? Matthew in good Jewish tradition is always trying to show how Jesus is the fulfilment of the Hebrew scripture, and here we have Elijah representing all the prophets and Moses, representing the Law, the 10 commandments and all the commentary that goes with them.
Why else? What if they are there to encourage, to embolden, to be a lamp in the darkness to come? Peter certainly seems to see them, and in fact wants to start constructing little `Moses was here’ shelters. That didn’t go over so well… but is this about Jesus perhaps getting encouragement to take this next step? It seems to encourage Peter, at least way down the road, when he is preaching to the early church about his experience, saying to them, “…be attentive to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
If this served Peter, what for us serves as this lamp? Are there experiences, spiritual practices, actions, or symbols that help you stay the course, to get through the tough times? What is the lamp in the darkness for you? (the congregation shared examples of scriptures and songs, the love and support of family and friends, trust in Jesus etc. )
For me, sometimes it is just in the right words of encouragement from a friend. In a difficult time of transition, when I could see the writing on the wall, and wondered if all my efforts had been for naught, a colleague said to me, “Juanita you have given a great gift, you radiate light. For those who dare to look and see, it has blessed their lives and no one can take that gift away from them; for others, they will not see, they don’t want to see what you have to give, their minds are made up, so they will never be able to see it.
Another lamp for me is the good ol’ Serenity prayer. I found myself dwelling on each word of it as I drove out to work recently, and it really was sustaining. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
We find the prayers, the symbols the people who bless and sustain us. And, as a community of faith – how do we be a lamp to others?
When I was in ministry in Merritt, we had a Blue Christmas service each year for people who were grieving in some way. This was always wildly popular… There were 6 or 7 of us and usually 5 of us were taking part in the service! One woman, Julia, brought her neighbour. It was the first time she had ever been to the little church. During a quite reflective time in the service, I heard her say to Julia, `This is exactly where I needed to be.’
To be a lamp for others, we are not called to be perfect. We think of Moses and Elijah as these great pillars of faith, right? We forget – that Moses had some sort of speech impediment and was a murderer, and Elijah was prone to deep and debilitating depression. This is whom God chooses and uses! Why would we think God doesn’t call us discipleship?
I confess I didn’t get much out of Presbytery a couple weeks ago, but there was the reminder to all of us to quit looking `out there’ for the perfect people, (ministry personnel or congregational members!), and pay attention to who is present – here and now. Work with whom God gives you – that goes both ways. If this feeds your soul, invite others to come and see if it feeds their soul. If it doesn’t – let’s talk about what we might need less of and more of.
And let’s heed Jesus’ words of encouragement on the mountain. The story of the transfiguration has some similarities to the accounts of Jesus’ baptism which we read near the beginning of the Epiphany season. “This is my Own, my Beloved.” But this story adds: `Listen to him.’ Listen to him? We don’t hear Jesus saying very much on the mountain at all. All that is recorded is Jesus saying to the disciples after the celestial guests have gone is “Rise up now! Don’t be afraid.” On the way down the mountain he just tells them not to share what they saw, until after his death. Maybe he knew they would need that lamp in the darkness, that blessing to bestow on a beleaguered group of disciples, when they wondered if there was anything to look forward to.
Remember Moses. Remember Elijah. Remember Peter. This is whom God chooses and uses. Why would we think God doesn’t call us to discipleship?
May we harken to the call of Jesus, who encourages us with these words: “Rise up now! Don’t be afraid.”