Preached on February 26, 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
The last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
A glimpse of eternity. Do you ever wish God would just give you a little glimpse of eternity; of what God has in store for the world? Or maybe just for you?
Have you ever felt that you’ve had an encounter with God? What does that even mean and how do we talk about it? I think that is one of the gifts of a community of faith. We come here and hear the stories. We learn to recognize God out in the world and we learn a little about how to talk about it.
There are so many ways to approach the story of the Transfiguration. One way is to look at it as an eschatological revelation – meaning that it has to do with the end times. It is a foretaste of what is to come: a glimpse of eternity. Moses and Elijah, here, are eschatological figures. In Scripture, they are expected to appear as the end approaches.
At the end of the book of the prophet, Malachi, the very last 2 verses of the Old Testament, it says, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
And along with Moses and Elijah, we see the glory of God in Jesus, the Messiah. The Transcendence of God is breaking through. We have Emmanuel, God with us, revealing the glorious Otherness of God.
In the Transfiguration, we have jumped way ahead in the gospel of Matthew from where we were last week, in chapter 5. This is chapter 17. The first sixteen chapters have been an unfolding of the revelation of Jesus as Messiah arriving on the stage of history: he’s preaching, teaching, healing, feeding, performing signs – in the world; in history. In chapter 16, he asks the disciples, “Who do they say that I am?” and then “but who do you say that I am?” Peter famously proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus goes on to tell the disciples what that will mean; what kind of Messiah he is to be. He must go to Jerusalem where he will be handed over to the authorities and be killed and then raised on the third day. When Peter protests, Jesus responds with another famous line, “Get behind me, Satan.”
It is only 6 days later when Jesus takes the three, Peter, James, and John up the mountain where he is transfigured. Perhaps this is a sign from God, not only that Jesus is the Messiah, but that what he has prophesied is true. God is vouching for Jesus, so to speak. We hear the same words that we heard at his baptism at the beginning of his public ministry, “This is my beloved Son.” Now the voice adds, “Listen to him.” The Transcendence of God has broken through; a glimpse of eternity.
They go down the mountain together and set out for Jerusalem. There, they will end up on a different mountain, and Jesus as Messiah will be revealed in a very different way. Perhaps it is because of the first, that the journey toward the second is possible. I’m sure that it is because of the first that the second is so profound.
How can (or does) God help you get through the day or the week when you are facing a difficult journey in life – whether it’s challenges in relationships or your family, work, health, politics, protests, just the overwhelming turmoil in the world today. How do you find God in that world?
Sometimes what helps us through is knowing that Jesus is like us; knows what it’s like to be human; to share the same limitations and risks, the joys and difficulties that we experience.
Sometimes, what we long for most is that Otherness; the beyond-ourselves God who is God of the Universe. We long to experience the Transcendence of God breaking through.
And sometimes it is enough to find in the stories, a Glimpse of Eternity.