February 22, 2009
Last Sunday after Epiphany (RCL B),
Quinquagesima, Mark 9: 2-10
In the old Prayer Book lectionary the gospel appointed for this “Sunday next before Lent,” Quinquagesima, is Luke 18: outside of Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem. The passage begins at the 31st verse, with Jesus musing in a dark and heavy way about his destiny, as it is tumbling down toward him: “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” And we’re told then of the disciples, “they understood none of these things.”
Standing at the threshold, the door before us to Lent just beginning to open, and even before we step across we are brought right to the end, Holy Week and the Cross and the Empty Tomb. That we are not to forget even for a minute, not even for a minute, where we’re going. The disciples were clueless, but we don’t have their excuse. We’ve been down this road before.
The lectionaries of the 1979 BCP, though, and the Revised Common Lectionary, which we are using now, take us back a few steps and bring us with Peter and James and John to that transcendent moment at the top of the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus suddenly wrapped in light, in the words of the old collect, “in raiment white and glistering” and with Moses and Elijah suddenly beside him, the towering figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Giver of the Torah, and the greatest of the Prophets. We’re meant to think, I believe, that these two are here to give Jesus a special gift of strength and comfort and blessing, for the coming struggle. For us it is a vision of what lies ahead—though not as direct. A mystic vision.
As then the testimony of St. Peter, who writes later, in the first chapter of Second Peter: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
As we are all called, invited today, this morning, as we come forward to the Holy Table, as we take our first steps this coming Ash Wednesday, in this Lent now before us: to become “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” That it would be immediate for us, real, substantial, present for us, and a part of our memory and our imagination, the one bright light for us in all the shadows of the world. To be able to say ourselves, “we were eyewitnesses, we heard this voice, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
How we get there has nothing to do with making airline reservations, though I would love someday to visit Mt. Tabor and hike to the top and see the Church of the Transfiguration and the ancient monasteries there.
But this journey is an inner journey for us now, one that we would enter into with seriousness and with openness. However we give ourselves to this Lent. Reading, prayer, fasting, special acts of charity and hospitality. Going out with intentionality to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Gathering strength to break bad habits and live in a new way.
And that we would pray that we would at the altar this morning and in this inner journey of Lent be allowed the privilege to walk this way with Jesus and his friends. This year. This morning. To see him on the mountaintop, and along the road, and at the Cross, and at the Tomb. To be there, in the deepest reality of our lives. That he would open our eyes and our ears, our minds, our hearts, bring light to our world with his radiance, bless, heal, forgive, restore, and make us new, that where he is, there we may be also. We’ll see you this Ash Wednesday, as we begin again.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.