By Father Doug Woods
Gracious God, as I speak, may only the truth be spoken and only the truth be heard. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
I can't help it. This part of the year always feels like "neither-nor" time. It's the coldest time of the year, so it's definitely Winter, but we're getting more and more daylight, so it feels like Spring.
The same thing with the church year. Christmas has long since faded into the past, but it's not yet Easter. Even Epiphany confuses people. I know it's supposed to be about the arrival of the Wise Men, but somehow that all leaks into Christmas, and the Epiphany season isn't yet quite Lent or Easter. And the church's hangings have been green, which I associate with summer. And to add to the confusion, this year the Last Sunday of Epiphany is also St. Valentine's Day.
And as if that weren't enough, we celebrate the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday of Epiphany. Transfiguration was always a summer feast-August 6th-but now, they've moved it into Epiphanytide. And then it hits me; Epiphany isn't only about the Wise Men. Epiphany is about what the word says: Gk. epiphania 'showing forth, manifestation'. Every gospel reading throughout the Epiphany season has been about manifesting who Jesus is, starting with the Wise Men, and then going on to the Baptism of the Lord, and so on until today: the Transfiguration. In every single one of them, something about Jesus as the Messiah comes out.
And furthermore, the Transfiguration is an almost step-by-step parallel with the story of Moses at Mt. Sinai, receiving the Law; first Jesus takes three friends with him, then he goes up a high mountain, then he is transfigured, then the three friends are terrified, then a cloud covers the mountain, and finally a voice comes out of the cloud. If you want to see this, take out your Bible and look at chapters 24 and 34 of Exodus. If the three friends of Jesus miss all of this, they might be excused; there was a lot going on.
During the Transfiguration, two men appear with Jesus: Elijah and Moses. In Jewish tradition, Elijah occupies a position almost as central as Moses, and it is through Moses that the people receive their identity: the people of the Lord God, the people who live by the Law. Many suggest that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, the two arms of Jewish scripture.
But it's the voice from the cloud which does it for me. In Mark's account of the Baptism of the Lord, the voice says, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." In turn, at the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud says, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" " … my Son, the Beloved" bookends the entire Epiphany season, and in the weeks in between, we find out more and more about what that means.
The voice says, "listen to him," and it's the gospel reading from last Sunday, where we hear Jesus actually speaking to his disciples, which clinches it for me: "Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." What is "the message"? Go back to the Beginning of the Galilean Ministry (Mk. 1.14-15): "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'"
It's no secret-no surprise-that the kingdom of God brings life. The kingdom of God isn't some faraway rosy, beautiful, perfect place like the Land of Oz; it's near. It's wherever and whenever God's will is done, and God's will is encapsulated in the Summary of the Law, so it's no accident that it Law gets so much attention in our liturgy, e.g., it can replace the Creed in Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer:
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and the great commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."
The story of the Transfiguration is the climax of the manifestations of Jesus through the season of Epiphany; Jesus is God's beloved son, and we are to listen to him. If we do, the kingdom of God is near-it's in our hearts-and it's important to share that with everyone around us.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we thank you that you open our eyes and hearts. We thank you that you reveal to us who Jesus is. We thank you for the message of the kingdom. We pray in the name of the transfigured one, Jesus your son, with whom you are well pleased. Amen.