Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, 2017.
When relationships take a turn, there is often a feeling of loss. This applies to the regular, even every day, moments such as when a person leaves in the morning to go to work or leaves on a several-day long trip; the other person not leaving has that bittersweet feeling. On a larger scale, when a person changes jobs or retires from a job, the people remaining often experience a sense of loss or even a disorientation. Still more this is true about when a loved one dies—even the most faithful Christian will experience a profound sense of loss, an emptiness, some sort of vacuum. To provide some sort of offset to loss, we try to compensate with expressions of love. Kisses and hugs abound before the person leaves for work or a long trip; a going-away party often ensues for those changing or leaving their job; and in the case of death, a visitation and proper funeral are the means for the family and friends to express their love for the deceased as well as for each other in this time of grieving and loss.
The Church is taking a turn starting this week, the turn to the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday. We are moving from the glowing, light-filled seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphanytide into something starker, even grittier. Here too, though in a different way than the other examples, there is a dislocation. The wee baby Jesus, beheld in supernatural admiration by His Mother Mary, gives way to the fully mature and adult Jesus who is squarely facing his mortality, firmly on pilgrimage to Jerusalem by way of Cross.
While we should hesitate in calling this change to Lent a “loss”—at most, we might say this is a loss of innocence—nonetheless the Church provides something of a compensation to offset any disorientation we might have in the image of Our Lord transfigured on a high mountain. Brothers and sisters, with your full imaginative faculties at work, hear these words: “And He was transfigured before them, and His face shown like the sun, and His garments became white as light.” Imagine being in a pitch-black cave for six days then in the very next moment, thrown into the bright of day without a cloud in the sky. Now understand that this experience also involves a still more profound spiritual shift—from spiritual darkness into enlightenment never before experienced by Peter, James, and John. All truth concentrates in Jesus.
The light of all reality shines forth in Jesus. How often we have heard, prayed, and sung about “light” in Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphanytide! That light that is coming into the world; the light bringing people to the baby Jesus; the light of candles; the light of the nations, and so on and so forth. It is fitting therefore that at this moment of shifting, the image of Jesus is of a light as bright as the sun. To speak about Jesus as transfigured recapitulates all the images of light we have had since Advent.
It is this concentrated image of Jesus transfigured that the Church provides us as that goodbye kiss and hug, that going-away party, or even that funeral gathering. The Church invites us, as we enter the stark season of Lent, to carry this image of Jesus transfigured into our Lenten pilgrimage. Indeed, we, the baptized People of God, are the temple of God’s Spirit, so with those same imaginative faculties, let us carry this image of Jesus, with His face shining like the sun, his garments white as light, in our hearts. In our prayer during Lent, let us see that it is this Jesus with whom we speak, this transfigured Jesus who loves us, this Jesus who regards not our sins, but our faith; not who we are, nor what we have done: Jesus regards us for who He would have us be.
In our Collect, we petition God to grant that as we behold this image of the transfigured Jesus, we may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness—His likeness which is as bright as the sun. In the Old Testament writings of the prophet Daniel, we read that “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” This may sound exotic or unreachable to us, even the stuff of fantasy. It should not sound exotic, unreachable, or fantastical. The faith of the Church is that the end of the Christian pilgrimage is to behold the Vision of God, to behold Him in His unspeakable glory. Every step of the way requires humility, listening, and openness. Jesus responds to those who are humble, obedient, and open. This transfiguration of Jesus was His response to Peter, in the previous chapter, who answered the question, “Who do you say that I am?” by saying, “You are the Christ.” May we all, in this season of Lent, respond in the same way.