The preaching rota yesterday for our clergy circle at St. Andrew's gave us, happily, Archdeacon Chess. But I had some notes toward a sermon anyway.
II Kings 2: 1-12
II Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9
O God, who before the passion of thy only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mount: Grant unto us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Comparing the traditional calendar with the new calendar—though perhaps a bit of a stretch to keep calling the 1979 calendar “new”—what was once Quinquagesima, “the Sunday next before Lent,” is now “the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.” A slight shift of emphasis. In both cases a turning point, a pivot. And it may surprise you to know that I think at this moment the new calendar is in one way at least superior to the old in helping us hold to and appreciate the tension in the turning, the “g-force.”
The proper collect, a modern composition according to Marion Hatchett, first appearing in Anglican Prayer Books in the 1928 Church of England revision, adopted into the Episcopal Church revision then of 1979, containing the two directions of energy.
From Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Christmas to Good Friday, the Manger to the Cross. It’s all there. “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son,” – there’s Holy Week—“revealed his glory upon the holy mountain”—there’s Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ. “That we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance”—there we are with the Shepherds, the Wise Men—“may be strengthened to bear our cross.” Again, like Simon of Cyrene along the Way of Sorrow. Just wonderfully holding both of these together in this turning. Back and forth, interwoven: Incarnation and Atonement.
These two great centers held together, pressed together in this turning point as when matter and antimatter collide in the warp drive reactor engines of the Starship Enterprise. (If you will pardon that.) And there is an explosion and implosion that tears the fabric of the universe and fills it with radiant light.
The great vision of the Prophet Elisha as Elijah is taken up into heaven. “A chariot of fire and horses of fire . . . ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
And Paul to the Christians in Corinth: the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Glory! Christmas and Holy Week, Epiphany and the Cross. Glory. Easter everywhere. And his name shall be called Emmanuel. God with us.
It is one of my favorite movies. The Robert Duvall—“The Apostle.” A story about loss and brokenness and redemption in the life of a Pentecostal preacher, and as he moves through the different phases of the story that is the word that is always on his lips, what he looks for and finds even in the midst of all kinds of messiness of his life. Glory. Glory. Glory.
What Elisha caught a glimpse of. What Paul and the Christians of Corinth have seen and known. What the disciples see at the top of the mountain. Light and glory. The heavenly voice. And then, in the quiet of the still moment that follows, they could see “only Jesus.” Such a beautiful phrase. The music: they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Where it all comes together. In whom we live and move and have our being. The glory of the Father in the face of the Son.
To catch a glimpse of that. That can change everything.
The whole business of Lent ahead, it does seem like a lot of hard work. Self-examination and repentance. Turning on the path of obedience. Amending our lives. Away from sin and toward God. “Putting off the old man.” Bearing our cross. From certain points of view it just doesn’t make sense. Why put ourselves through all this? Life is short. Shouldn't we mainly focus on having a good time? And perhaps those points of view are those loyal to the one Paul calls “the god of this world.” The one who tries so often successfully to “blind the mind.”
But not if you’ve seen what we’ve seen, what we can see now, opening our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts. Here at this mountaintop. Where there is a vision to lift us up and fill our minds and hearts. This Holy Communion. He in us and we in him.
I’m descended from a long line of Northern European introverted males, with patron saints like Gary Cooper and John Wayne, but at the top of this mountain it’s all awe and mystery and open-eyed visionary mysticism. Ready or not.
It caught those down-to-earth fishermen Peter and James and John by surprise too.
But we would see him today and stand in his glorious presence. Stand there with them.
And then they looked again and could see only him: only Jesus. Only Jesus. Who was with us at the beginning and who promises to be with us to the end and forever. With forgiveness and healing, grace and mercy and blessing. Bright with the radiance of heaven. The word proclaimed here in the midnight of Christmas, the first chapter of St. John, and at the foot of the cross, and in our lives. God with us.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
May this vision at the mountaintop encourage us and sustain us as we would keep a holy lent. Strengthen us. And bring us finally home to his Easter morning.