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Homily – Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 2:1-12 Psalm 50:1-6 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 Mark 9:2-9 (readings for Transfiguration Sunday)
Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday or the last Sunday of Epiphany. Transfiguration has a fixed date in the church calendar, August 6, but it is often moved to the last Sunday of Epiphany because it is an important story that we could miss in the middle of the summer. The readings are full of strange wonders. Fiery chariots. Dazzling Clothes. Blinding clouds. In our old testament reading, Elijah ascends to heaven in a spectacular whirlwind. In the gospel, Jesus reveals his divinity on a mountain top. There is nothing understated in these stories. Today, in these stories we witness God’s glory in its fullness.
The interesting thing about these stories is that they are not happy stories. These stories are filled with bewilderment and loss. Why is that?
I think that these stories are about change. There is a before and after. We as human beings do not go on new adventures without hesitation. We sometimes go into change with grief, already pining for what we have left behind. Sometimes we move forward in fear, convinced that we can’t handle the change. I remember sitting in my room in Seminary, at Wycliffe College, my first day thinking, what I am doing here? I quit my job and am starting a new journey to being a priest. What was I thinking?
There is nothing wrong with that, we are human. We like to be cautious. But these readings teach us that crossing thresholds are essential to the life of faith. These changes keep our faith dynamic. We are called to keep living to face new opportunities.
In our old Testament reading from 2 Kings 2, we have the story of the Elisha succeeding Elijah as the prophet of Israel. A prophet is someone who gives spiritual direction to the Israel leaders and try to keep them following God’s ways. Elijah calls Elisha to be his heir and apprentice. Seven or eight years go by. Elisha becomes Elijah’s shadow, following his teacher around out of love, admiration, and keen to learn anything Elijah will teach him.
Now is the time for Elijah to depart, die, be taken to heaven. Elijah tells Elisha three times in our reading this week. Elisha says stubbornly, “No, I will not leave you.’ Other prophets and leaders tell him it is time for Elijah to depart. Elisha kind of tells them to “shut up” .
Elisha reacts exactly as we might if we were standing upon a threshold – a time of change of vocation, of identity, or relationship. Everything is about to change and Elisha is filled with pain and confusion. Elisha is not sure he is up to being a prophet of God on his own.
I think we can understand how he felt. We know we get used to doing things a certain way. One way of knowing God, one way of relating to our families, one way of doing church, faith and religion. During this time of the pandemic, a lot of our routines have been upset. This includes how we do church. We are doing on-line worship and Zoom meetings. Elisha would make a good Anglican, he does not like change. Can he do it alone? Will God be the same for him ?
Then the chariots come, the whirlwind descends, and Elijah leaves his student behind.
It raises the question. What did the drama accomplish. The fire, the wind, the horses? What was the spectacular show for? Was it for Elisha. He does not seem comforted and inspired by it. He did not react in a way that it reassured him. We are told Elisha tore his clothes and grieved.
This story ends very sadly. The divine vision comes, then it departs. There is no afterglow. Only silence. Only loss. Only questions. Why is it this way? Because it is not the vision that saves Elisha. The vision is glorious but divine wonders do not save anyone. Elisha’s salvation comes in the long silence after the
glory. It comes when Elisha chooses to stand up, shoulder his grief, take up his teacher’s mantle and enter into a new and unfamiliar life. This makes coming to faith not an easy thing. Elisha starts this journey with a battered and trembling faith. This is faith that empowers him and gives him new life. The truth is that
God will see him through.
The second threshold story this week is as we mentioned Jesus’s Transfiguration, featuring Elijah and Moses. It is recorded in 3 of the 4 gospels. We are often taught this story is important because it reveals Christ’s divine nature, foreshadows his death, and places in him direct history of God working in the world
from Moses to Elijah and now Jesus.
This is true and it is important but we can say what does it mean to me and my faith. I think that story pivots around Peter, James and John. The three disciples who witness Jesus transfiguration and it blows their minds. Like Elisha, Peter, James and John have been following Jesus around listening to his teachings and witnessing his miracles. They think they know him as a teacher, a storyteller, a healer, and a traveling companion. Jesus is familiar to them. He is safe. But then on the mountain, before their very eyes, Jesus changes. He is fully himself and fully strange. Jesus’ stunned disciples find themselves like Elisha, standing on a threshold, everything is about to change. Everything is changing about Jesus and this will lead to another hill, a place called Golgotha and a cross.
One phase of their life and their understanding of it is ending. They have journeyed with Jesus, the teacher, the healer and friend. Will they now journey with him to the cross ? Or will they insist like Peter, that they stay there in this safe and amazing place. Peter says let’s build a tabernacle or a memorial and capture this moment forever. Let’s just stay here and be safe.
On Transfiguration Sunday. we come to the end of the season of Epiphany. Having seen its light, we prepare for the long shadows of Lent. We don’t know what thresholds we will encounter in the wilderness. We don’t know how God might invite us to change, to grow and to cross over. We don’t know what losses and sadness those crossings will include. But if this week’s stories bear witness to something true about the life of faith, then we can trust in the God who invites us to cross over and go into the unknown. Resurrection is on the other side.
So our challenge is not to hold onto what we know and our familiar, but to trust God to lead us and to be with us no matter where it might lead us.
Let us pray.