On the last day that we celebrate the Epiphany, we use the lessons about the Transfiguration. I know these lessons well, because I was ordained on the Feast of the Transfiguration – thanks to the sense of humor that the bishop’s secretary had back in the early days of women’s ordination! But that’s another story.
So a quick note about the Christian calendar. Some pieces in the calendar move, others do not. We call them “fixed.” One date that is “fixed” is Christmas. It is always Dec 25, and the four Sundays before that are always the four Sundays of Advent, no matter when they fall. Then we have dates that can move a little, but not a lot. This year the Feast of the Epiphany actually happened on a Sunday, but usually it doesn’t. Then we move it to the nearest Sunday. Another example of this is saint’s days. We celebrated the Martyrs of Japan last week, but the actual day of this commemoration was on Tuesday. We are allowed to move it to either the Sunday before or after, if we cannot do it on the actual day. So it moves a little, but not a lot.
Then we have the very moveable date: Easter. The reason it moves is that it is tied to the lunar calendar, like Chinese New Year. Easter will always be in the spring, but it can be very early, like this year, or very late. In the Book of Common Prayer, we read that “Easter Day is always the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21. It cannot occur before March 22 or after April 25.” Did you get that? Me either! I look at the calendar each year, and now you can simply google it! How nice. But there are a set of other dates that are tied to Easter, either so many days ahead, like Ash Wednesday is on the week before the six Sundays before Easter, or Pentecost, which is 7 Sundays after Easter.
The Season of Epiphany starts with the Feast of the Epiphany which is on Jan 6, and ends whenever Ash Wednesday shows up. The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, is therefore always the “Last Sunday after the Epiphany.” Because Ash Wednesday comes so early this year, the season of Epiphany was very short. Just to add to the fun, the colors will change. The Feast of the Epiphany is gold or white, but the Season of Epiphany is green. As soon as we come to Ash Wednesday, the color is purple, for Lent. Got it?
Now for a quick look at the lessons here: we have Moses, being close to God – the text says “he goes into the tent to meet with God” and when he comes out, he is different. They say he is “shining” that the skin of his face is shining. This scares the people – they didn’t know about radioactivity, but they knew that something was not OK, but he could still talk and walk like a normal human being – but he didn’t LOOK normal any more. They didn’t like it, but he was the head honcho, so they requested that he cover his face when he came out of the tent. Have you seen those pictures with halos around people’s heads? How about the Virgin of Guadalupe? The “halo” goes around her whole body! The business with halos is that they are real, it’s just that most people have forgotten to see them. Children can usually see them, until they learn that it is not OK, and then they forget.
In the Gospel, there are two things to pay attention to: One is that Jesus, like Moses, starts shining. Some people say, that’s the point right there. The gospel writer is trying to say that Jesus is, in fact, like Moses. You find this in several places in this gospel. The second thing is the words that come out of the cloud. “This is my beloved son.” Where did we hear that before? At the Baptism of Jesus, which happened back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We read about that back in the beginning of January. So this is kind of like a bookend. The wonderful thing about God saying this at the beginning is that Jesus hadn’t done anything yet, and God was already saying that Jesus was the beloved son. Now, Jesus has done some things, and God continues to be pleased.
[pullquoteleft]Have you ever been around someone that seemed to be just amazing inside, and it almost seems like they have extra light or energy around them? They do. Moses did, and Jesus did, and the apostles and saints did. They had been transfigured by their encounter with God.[/pullquoteleft]One day, in an effort to get some other things done, I gave my young son some big magic markers and huge pieces of paper, and told him to draw whatever he wanted. When I came back, he had drawn some things in blues and yellows. Having been well taught not to assume what he might have drawn, I asked him if he could explain it to me. He very patiently explained that this was the altar in the front of the church, and there was the pulpit, and so on. This was all in blue, and once he started talking about it, I could see what he had drawn. But what is all of this yellow, I asked. Again, almost sad that I had to ask, he explained that this was the spirit, that I could see that there was the preacher, with a bunch of yellow light coming down on the preacher, and there was a large yellow blob over the altar. Explain this to me, I asked. The altar holds the spirit, he explained, because spirit comes there so often when we have Eucharist. I kept that paper for a long time.
Have you ever been around someone that seemed to be just amazing inside, and it almost seems like they have extra light or energy around them? They do. Moses did, and Jesus did, and the apostles and saints did. They had been transfigured by their encounter with God.
So here’s the scary question for the week: what about us? Are we ready for an encounter with God? Are we ready for a transfiguration? Transfiguration is a strange word. Perhaps transformation is better. What do you think of when you think about transformation? One of the concepts that pops for me is the transformer toys my boys had. The toy looked like one thing when you first looked at it, and with a few moves, it now looked like something else entirely, usually something big and bad. When I think about personal transformation, I think about people who have changed vital things in their lives, and it has made a huge difference in how they are in the world. Sometimes, I have not even recognized them.
In one type of training, I learned, for instance, how important posture is as a way of being in the world. When you lean over using a cane, for instance, it is very hard to feel strong. When you stand up with good posture, it is much easier to feel strong and independent. Slaves learn to use a certain posture, it indicates that they are slaves. When the black men who had served in WWI came back to the South standing up like real men instead of slaves, the whites killed them. It was horrid, awful, and understandable – which does not make it right. The whites understood on a very low level that these men had “forgotten” their place, which was the place of slavery, and you could see it by the way they stood and walked. They had been transformed, from slaves to free men, which was intolerable to their former owners.
The disciples were transformed. We read in the story of Acts how Peter stands up to the leaders of the temple, and preaches to them! This was a man who had been transformed, a man who forgot his place as an uneducated fisherman in the presence of the powerful and educated elite. They killed him too, eventually, but not until he had made a big mark in the world.
Where is it that we feel inadequate in the presence of others? What would it mean to be transformed by the love of God? What would happen to us, if we heard those words, “this is my beloved.” Would it matter what anyone else said? Not really! Well, guess what? God has said those words, about us. It doesn’t matter if we remember, God said it, and it is true.
- [thkBC height=”600″ width=”900″ anchortext=”Exodus 34:29-35″ title=”Today’s First Reading” url=”http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus34:29-35&version=CEB” type=”iframe”]
- [thkBC height=”600″ width=”900″ anchortext=”Luke 9:28-36″ title=”Today’s Second Reading” url=”http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke9:28-36&version=CEB” type=”iframe”]