Sunday, February 10, 2013

Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima

Luke 9: 28-36

Good morning, and continuing winter season blessings.  The word “lent” comes to us from the Old English name for the season when the days “lengthen,” and another way of saying “springtime.”  Perhaps doesn't feel quite spring-like yet, certainly as we think about and pray for all those affected by winter storms this weekend.   As we gather here this morning it’s encouraging to know that pitchers and catchers are reporting tomorrow morning at Pirate City in Bradenton, and our long campaign to the October World Series is now officially under way.

On the old church calendar, Quinquagesima, representing 50 days until Easter, more or less.  The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  As we note in the closing hymn this morning, we set aside our liturgical “alleluias” now for a time, saying the last of them at the dismissal, and the green paraments of this season after the Epiphany will soon to be replaced by the Lenten array.

 In the Old Prayer Book the gospel lesson appointed for this “Sunday next before Lent” was from the 18th chapter of St. Luke, and Jesus and his disciples on the road to Jerusalem meet the blind beggar who Matthew in his parallel account tells us was named Bartimaeus, and who takes his place in the story as someone who is intended to represent every Christian disciple when he  miraculously receives his sight, gives glory to God, and then joins with the other disciples in the procession to the Holy City--and of course then to Holy Week and Good Friday and the Cross. 

In the calendar now this Sunday is more prosaically entitled “the Last Sunday after the Epiphany,” and in each year of our three-year cycle we have a gospel account of the Mount of the Transfiguration.  As we have sung, “O wondrous type, O vision fair!”  This year, Year C in the lectionary, from St. Luke. 

A very dramatic story. Luke tells us in verse 36 that the disciples didn't talk about this event after it happened.  Almost that they couldn't talk about it.  At the time they really didn't have the conceptual framework I suppose to make sense of it.  Just too confusing, too much to take in.  But afterwards, of course—after Good Friday, and Easter, and after Pentecost—their expanded and spirit-filled understanding helped them put things together.

In the Second Letter of Peter, written years later, we get an eyewitness account, in the 1st chapter, and I think it’s interesting and helpful to have this as a context for our own encounter with the story.  Just to hear this, to speak to us this Sunday, and as we turn this major corner on the road from the Manger to the Cross:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but 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.  And we have the prophetic word made more sure.  You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  And then he goes on to say, “First of all you must understand this,  that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

To say here, this experience reveals the identity of Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s hope and the confirmation by God himself of the promises of scripture.  The one we have been waiting for.  Jesus flanked by, embraced by Moses and Elijah.  All the Law and the Prophets, God’s word to God’s people, now present, as Majestic Glory.  God’s self-expression.   This is my Son.  Listen to him.

This story, the moral of this story,  is about loyalty, obedience, trust. About paying attention. About letting the word in, allowing the word to be planted in the rich soil of our hearts.  About the confidence we can have in the Lordship of Christ. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.

On Tuesday evening we’ll enjoy Pancakes and Mardi Gras fun, and then on Wednesday we’ll take a deep breath and step back ont the path, up the mountain, seeking his presence.  We have been there before, in the great cycle of the year.  We've heard the story.  God’s Word written for us.  As we have encountered him and known him.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.

In the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy: I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

We seek him, as he finds us.  Christ on the mountaintop.  Our companion on the journey, and the end of our journey.  Christ here and now.  We open our minds and hearts, as he reveals himself to us.  The Angel told us who he would be.  Emmanuel: God with us.

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