And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.[i]
We find ourselves this morning at the last Sunday after the Epiphany. We find ourselves on the threshold of Great and Holy Lent. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday…the first day of Lent. And with each and every Last Sunday after the Epiphany…with each and every last Sunday after the Epiphany, we find ourselves reading the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an extremely powerful story. It should instill a sense of awe and wonder in those who hear it…so let us look at it.
The mountain Jesus is transfigured upon, Mount Tabor, is the same mountain upon which God revealed himself to Moses after Moses’ being up there for 6 days…and it was there Moses stayed in the presence of God for 40 days and 40 nights. The same story we read a bit of in the Old Testament this morning.
So, it is the same mountain which God appeared to Moses…the same mountain upon which God gave his commandments…the same mountain upon which Moses, being in the presence of God…began to shine with the radiance of God and to hide his face for some time after coming down.
Fast forwarding to today’s Gospel, Jesus, Peter, James & John ascend the Mount of Tabor during an important festival…the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. The feast of Booths or Tabernacles is a time for the Israelites to remember their wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus. So, during this feast, the Israelites build tents or tent like structures in which they are to take all their meals, sleep, and entertain guests.
The idea behind the Feast of Booths is to remember and show the benevolence of God and His care for His people in the wilderness. As Jesus is transfigured on the Mountain Top, two figures appear to the disciples- Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah appear for a very good reason. Moses and Elijah are two of the most important figures in the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law of the Old Testament and Elijah represents the Prophets of the Old Testament.
The Law and the Prophets, represent the two most important aspects of the Old Testament Scriptures…of the covenant God has made with the people of Israel.
The Law, represented by Moses, is the first five books of the Bible that outline the moral codes and conduct of right relationship with God. The prophets, represented by Elijah, are the writings that look for the coming Messiah and the salvation of Israel.
So it is, Moses and Elijah show up on the Mountain as Jesus is transfigured. They are there to give assent to Jesus…to affirm what is going on…to testify that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets…the Messiah.
And this is why Saint Peter tries to make a booth or tent there on the mountain…if Jesus transfigured and radiant, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah is not a showing of the benevolence of God…then nothing is…or so Peter thinks.
Next, God’s voice booms through the cloud saying:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”[ii]
Now, not only do we find Jesus dazzling white with the Glory of God and Moses and Elijah testifying and assenting to Jesus as Messiah, as Son of God…we have God the Father confirm this.
Peter never gets to put up his tent, because this event is not an event in and of itself…rather it is a preparation for something much greater.
The Transfiguration is a distinct turning point in the Gospel story. Once Jesus comes down the mountain the character of the Gospel changes. Jesus stops wandering around preaching and ministering. Jesus at this point becomes determined to go to Jerusalem and face His passion and death.
The Transfiguration is a confirmation of this journey. It is the confirmation that something much greater is about to occur. And given the nature of the journey to Jerusalem and the passion and death of Jesus Christ, this story is meant for something else as well. The Transfiguration is meant to give courage to Peter and James and John. It is meant to give them confirmation that the Jesus they follow is the Son of God…is God.
The transfiguration is meant to give them the courage and hope and confirmation needed to journey with Jesus to His death.
The Church reads this story on this Sunday for a similar reason. Through the vehicle of Lent…we too follow Jesus to Jerusalem to face His passion and death. We too, walk with Jesus through some very difficult things and events to get to the Resurrection on Easter Day.
So then, it is a confirmation for us…that what we are doing we do for the living and the true God.
The purpose of Lent is to come closer to God…to become holy…to cast away sins and distortions…to unite ourselves to Jesus Christ. And there are many ways to do this. We fast, we read, we take on acts of charity…we examine our consciences…we increase our devotions…we go without or give things up. We do all these things to make our own walk to Jerusalem…to share in the life of Jesus…to become more truly His disciples.
This year, Saint John’s has numerous things to aide the faithful in making that pilgrimage…to help in growing closer to Jesus…in helping to become holy.
Each and every weekday morning during Lent at 7:30, we will offer a service of Morning Prayer here in the Church. I cannot think of a better way to start of the day focused on your faith than coming down here and spending 20 minutes in prayer…hearing scripture read…praying sacred texts and offering your cares and concerns and thanksgivings to God.
On Wednesday nights during Lent we will walk the Stations of the Cross here in the Church. The Stations of the Cross is a devotion that follows Jesus through His arrest, passion and death. There are 14 stations, and at each one we will reflect on what Jesus means for our life and salvation. It is a very moving and powerful devotion that will change you for the better.
During Stations of the Cross, First Communion classes will be held. This is an opportunity for the children of the parish who are ready to take communion to learn more about their faith and the practices of the Church. After the Stations of the Cross and Communion Classes, the parish will hold a soup and salad dinner. This is a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and for getting to know your parish family better.
After the meal, we will spend a brief bit of time in education and discussion focused on the nature of Salvation and Eternal Life. Wednesday nights at Saint John’s will benefit both young and old as we walk with Jesus.
We will continue with our Sunday morning education programs. If you have fallen away from Sunday School, this is a good time to come back. If you have never been, or if your children have never been, this is a great time to start. The children will meet downstairs, and upstairs there are two adult classes to choose from. Education is a wonderful way to get to know the people of Saint John’s better, and to help form a solid foundation in your faith.
For those who want to know more about the Episcopal Church, or who would like to officially join Saint John’s, we are in the process of forming a Confirmation class that will meet on Sunday evenings. This is another great way to learn more about the Christian faith and practice and to walk with Jesus. If this is for you, talk to me, or call the parish office.
We will also be more involved with local charities, offering opportunities to get involved or give to those in need in Jones County…
On top of that, we will be collecting money to help rebuild the Anglican Cathedral in Haiti…which is really and truly the center of education and assistance for the people in that country…and our fellow Anglicans are in desperate need of our help.
So, we will have many offerings and opportunities for you to make this walk with Jesus through his passion and death…and on Easter morning, His glorious resurrection.
My brothers and sisters…We are on the Holy Mount this morning…We have been given assurance that what we do is not in vein.
We have been given assurance that the Jesus we follow is the living and true God. That should give us the courage to fast and abstain…to take on devotions…to engauge in acts of charity and compassion…to walk with Jesus through His passion and death to His glorious resurrection..
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ…Lent starts in three days. As the beads of Mardi Gras fly…as the pancakes are flipped and fun is had…give some serious time to thinking about what you will give up…to fasting…to what you will take on…to acts of charity and devotion…
Give some time and chart a course that will bring you and your families closer to God…that will help make you and your families holy…Let us follow Jesus off the Holy Mountian and journey with Him to Easter morning…for we will become closer to God and better people for having done so.