Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Majesty of it All

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36

Holy God and Father, upon the mountain You revealed Your Messiah, who by His death and Resurrection would fulfill both the Law and the Prophets. By His Transfiguration enlighten our path that we may dare to share and suffer with Him in the service of humanity and so share in the everlasting glory of Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever. AMEN.

Last year on Transfiguration Sunday, I shared this: Moses and Elijah could well be a part of the “great cloud of witnesses”, those having lived such lives to which we should all aspire while we also recognize that we cannot have Jesus without the journey to the Cross. It is admirable, perhaps, to want to build dwellings for these so their glorified presence can be known, but this world is not where they belong. They had their time and their task, and they fulfilled these faithfully. Now it is our time, and our task lay just ahead.

We do not “belong here”, either. But we have our places here just as they did. And we will one day have our places in the light of the glory witnessed by Jesus’ disciples. And spoken of only AFTER the Resurrection. Because, I think, that is ultimately the Way – and destination - of the Cross.

It is rare, if ever, that I go back and dig through old sermons because I believe that if the Word of the Lord is living and dynamic – and I do – then it is utterly unfair to rehash old thoughts. If the Lord is continually moving in and through us, then we must continually be moving in and through Him – but forward, not backward. An entire year has passed since I spoke those words, and we would all hope I’ve learned at least a little something in the course of a year! Besides, it is often that I read my old stuff and wonder just what in the world I was thinking when I wrote it!!

I remember Billy Graham once preaching that the Bible gives us very little information about hell except in Luke’s Gospel about Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-26). By the same token, the Gospels give us very little of a literal view of the full glory of the Lord except in the Transfiguration. There are also glorified images in the apocalyptic literature of the last days, such as in Revelation and Daniel, but in all instances we are given the best description human words can offer to describe that which is fully incomprehensible. The 2nd century scholar and theologian, Origen, put it this way: [Jesus] is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge.

So it is in the limited capacity of our ability to comprehend by which we are shown the fullness of the Divine Glory and Majesty, not unlike the days when Moses descended from the mountain “with the skin of his face … shining” so much so that the Israelites “were afraid to come near him.” They knew something remarkable had taken place and they knew Moses had had an encounter with the Lord but because it was beyond their ability to understand what they were seeing, it made them afraid.

The disciples were “terrified”, according to Luke, as they were overshadowed by that great cloud from which the Voice of the Lord affirmed what Peter had previously confessed (Luke 9:20a): that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Moses and Elijah join Jesus in this moment in eternity and, according to Luke, speak with Him concerning His impending death. NRSV uses the term, “departure”, but Greek translations suggest a more literal use of “exodus” to more accurately describe what will soon take place in Jerusalem. If we think in terms of “exodus” rather than merely “departure”, then we can segue from Epiphany to Lent and, ultimately, to Easter not only in the earthly life of Jesus Himself but also in the life cycle of the faithful – here and now and for what is to come, even if we are incapable of comprehending.

Something really big is taking place at this incredible moment of the Transfiguration, and the disciples maybe came very near to missing the whole thing, “weighed down with sleep” as they were, but the language of Luke also seems to suggest they managed to somehow stay awake in spite of their fatigue, making the encounter surreal, almost dream-like. And this may be significant because the Lord has spoken so often and so clearly to many of his prophets by way of dreams. It is during this state when we are most vulnerable, of course, but we are also quiet, still, and better able to hear what the Lord says because we are not distracted by the noise of the world. In our dreams the Lord has our undivided attention.

In this moment in eternity, what we may be witnessing is the complete, unabridged, and unmanipulated (by human thought and opinion) image of the fullness and glory of the Lord’s majesty in the Law (Moses), the prophets (Elijah) and the Gospel (the Good News in and through the Christ). Even with all this, while we may be getting a small taste of a Divine Image, there is also something much more that is being presented to us: the “conversation” Luke refers to of Jesus’ impending “departure”, or “exodus”.

Thinking in terms of the Exodus of the OT when the Israelites were set free from bondage, the imagery is made more powerful for us when we grasp the notion that even though the Lord came to us freely in the person of Jesus, there may still be the need to somehow be set “free” from that human body, divine though He was because humanity has limits. As was previously shared, there is only so much we can do. Thinking about Jesus performing miracles in that human body, there are still limits to even His humanity; the human body, resilient though it may be, can only take so much especially in a world that is utterly and completely, if only physically, separated from the Divine.

Just as the Israelites had to be freed from their human bondage by incomprehensible power, so must we be released from our own humanity and the incomprehensible power of sin and death by sharing in the divinity of the Christ, if only for a moment, in the Eucharist, when we are in complete submission and sharing in the Passover meal just before the New Exodus, prepared as we must be to follow Him without hesitation or reservation into what will soon be our New Reality. It is within this context that John Wesley encouraged Methodists to share the Lord’s Supper as often as they gathered together in His Holy Name.

Before we can go WITH Him, however, we must prepare ourselves THROUGH Him. This preparation necessarily includes those means of grace, including the Sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, so that we can be enabled to endure the journey He endured while on this earth. We share in His earthly experiences so that we may soon share in His Heavenly Glory. The Transfiguration was necessary not only as a means of revealing the fullness and majesty of the Heavenly Glory of the Lord, but also as The End to which we must all aspire: life without end.


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