In the Name…
A young man had just gotten his driving permit and asked his father, a minister, if they could discuss the use of the car. "I'll make a deal with you.”, his father said, “You get your hair cut and we'll talk about it." The young man waited a moment and replied, "You know Dad, in the Bible, Moses and the prophets had long hair, and even Jesus and the disciples had long hair." "Quite true,” his father replied, “and they walked everywhere they went."
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Transfiguration, the day Jesus took Peter, James and John, up a mountain and, to their amazement, appeared before them in heavenly splendour.
No matter how you read it, this was a really weird experience. Imagine being with Peter, James, and John, and seeing Jesus, glowing with a dazzling brightness and calmly chatting with two of the greatest figures in Israel's history, both dead for centuries, until a cloud envelopes the scene and a voice thunders, "This is my Son".
Really weird. But, then, do you remember what we heard read just a few weeks ago - the baptism of Jesus? There was a cloud there, too. Rather unusual for an arid desert place. And there was a rumbling which sounded like thunder, but, some people thought they heard a voice saying, "This is my Son." Sound familiar? It should. Because the Baptism and the Transfiguration are linked in a way that affects each one of us and that is why they are chosen to mark the beginning and the end of the Epiphany season.
The Baptism marked the beginning of Christ's public ministry and our own baptisms marked the beginning of our own Christian ministries, as well. Baptism is a new birth, a new beginning, a new spiritual life. But, to what end? Just as with physical life, if you have a beginning, there must be an end, a goal. And that's where today figures in.
The 4th Century theologian Athanasius once wrote, "God became sarkophoros in order that we might become pneumatophoroi". That is, God became the bearer of human flesh - sarkos - so that we might become the bearers of - pneuma - the Holy Spirit. God became Man to lift us up to where He is. Yes, the Transfiguration shows forth the glory of God in Christ, but, it also shows what lies in our future as Christians. All of us will experience a transfiguration. All of us will know what it is like to be in presence of God. All of us will be like Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. This is a promise to you and me and that's why it was important that there were witnesses to make sure it was recorded in the Gospels.
At the Baptism and Transfiguration, God affirmed the identity of Jesus, "This is my Son", but, he also confirmed our own identity as Christ's brothers and sisters, an identity which comes from Him and no one else.
Peter, James and John were privileged to be witnesses of this confirmation. But, and here is the second part of the lesson this morning, how did they react?
Well, as is often the case, Peter is the spokesman. "Lord, it's great to be here. Let's put up some dwellings - houses - so we can settle down."
I like Peter, because there are times he's so stupid I know there's hope for me. Houses?!? What was he thinking? Well, I don't think he was thinking, but, he was doing and what he was doing was something we all do from time to time in our lives. He wanted to stay on the mountain. He wanted to stay on the mountain.
There's no doubt that the transfiguration was literally what we call a 'mountaintop experience', a real spiritual high. One of those occasions of joy, excitement, or awe that is so incredibly wonderful we just want to keep it forever. We've all had them and sometimes we've reacted like Peter. We don't want to let go of the particular event or place or person which has inspired us. We wish we could stay at the conference or retreat, or follow the speaker, or keep up with the people we've met. But, we can't.
There's an old Russian proverb. Ni che voh. It simply means, "This will pass". And it is used, of course, when times are hard, as an encouragement - Don't worry, ni che voh. We'll get through this. But, in Russia, it is also used when times are good, and is commonly said at birthday and wedding celebrations. In fact, in the old Imperial coronation ceremony, just after the jewelled crown was placed upon his head by the gold-robed patriarch and bishops, as the new Czar of All the Russias rose to his feet and prepared to make his way to the throne, his procession was dramatically stopped for a moment by a bare-foot, black robed monk, who stepped out amidst all the glittering pageantry and shouted, "Ni che voh". This will pass.
You see, a mountaintop isn't meant to be a permanent address. And while the experience may energize us and give us a renewed sense of God's power and presence, the fact remains that at the end of the day it is something to be used. And that may be the hardest task of all. To take what we've learned on the mountain down into life as it is lived in the valley. Moses and Elijah both heard the voice of God on mountaintops, but, if they had never come down we'd have never known the Commandments of God or learned of the Messiah who was to come.
Peter's desire to stay was very human. We like the places we've enjoyed, the great relationships, the sacred moments. At the end of the day, though, each of us has a mission and ministry in the world as baptized children of the Father. We press on, as St. Paul so eloquently wrote, toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. And while we do not know all that the future holds we know that in time all our questions will be answered - especially that one great question about the future which each one of us asks daily. What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?
Well, based on today's Gospel, I can firmly predict - partly cloudy, with a glimpse of the Son.
In the Name...