Sermons

Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021
Luke 24:36b-48

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

36bJesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
    44Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Just what is virtual reality? This is a question forced upon us by the necessities of the pandemic in concert with increasing availability of technologies which propel us into the realms of cyberspace for more and more of our waking hours.

Life online, our sharing in so-called virtual reality, is a huge elephant in our rooms demanding and commanding attention.

And there are attractive and perhaps even seductive dimensions to the commanding presence of cyberspace, even in the life of the church. Some congregations are reporting growth of participation online, in some cases far more than in person. Reportedly some congregations are receiving new members who have only participated in the life of the church online.

Thus, we are beckoned to begin to wrestle with the nature of virtual reality as it pertains to our Christian, communal life together.

Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021
John 20:19-31

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
    24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
    26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
    30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

They say that “seeing is believing.” This adage seems to apply well to so-called doubting Thomas’ desire to see Jesus first-hand. And seeing is the focus of Jesus’ response to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

For all of the decades that I have engaged this passage from John’s Gospel, I have generally focused on the physical dimension of sight, of seeing the risen Jesus first-hand.

This view is reinforced by other New Testament writings that focus apostolic authority on being eye witnesses to all of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, in the book of Acts, when the apostles seek one to replace Judas, a key criterion is that they need to select someone who also was a first-hand eye witness like the other apostles.

But this year, engaging the post-resurrection account that involves Thomas, I am struck by a wholly different dimension of the text which I generally overlook when I focus on sight.

If I were to give a title to what follows it might be something like, “Touching is believing.”

Resurrection of Our Lord, April 4, 2021
Mark 16:1-8

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

On this Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord, I have something of a confession to make as your pastor: during my adolescence, I was an agnostic. It may have been the tumult of my teenage years, my need for self-differentiation from my family which was very serious about both faith and life in the church, the influence of my skeptic friends whose parents were on faculty at the local college, or my mother’s struggles with her health – or likely some combination of all of the above. But I was a doubter during my teenage years, from early high school into college.

I recall looking for signs and evidence of the claims made by the Christian faith. Chief among those claims is what we celebrate today: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

My brother, who also had his own versions of doubts but was older than I and came back around sooner than I did, put in my hands a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone? A Skeptic Looks at the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The book was written originally in 1930 by Albert Henry Ross, who was a British advertising agent and freelance writer.

Like many classic British empiricists, Ross examined the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Gospels, assuming them to be fully accurate accountings free from any authorial license, looking for evidence, if not to say, proof that Jesus indeed rose from the dead.

What Ross centered on was the stone at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. In his reading of the accounts, he found no plausible or natural explanation for how it was that the large stone was moved from the entrance to the tomb.

On the basis of the stone being rolled away, Ross argued, if I recall his discourse accurately, that this was proof that something supernatural had happened and that, therefore, Jesus in fact rose from the dead.

While I found the book interesting, it did not convince me then as an adolescent, and it does not particularly interest me today. I’ve come to discover that faith does not need proof.

It’s a long story, which I’m happy to tell at some point, but many other things and people were responsible for my re-awakened faith – including biblical accounts such as the one from Mark’s Gospel appointed for today, namely, Mark’s account of the resurrection.

Palm and Passion Sunday, March 28, 2021
Mark 15:1-39

I am usually inclined on the Sunday of the Passion to let the Passion narrative, this year from Mark’s Gospel, speak for itself.

Thus, what follows is less a formal sermon and more homiletical or spiritual reflections on the Passion.

First, though, a question: Did God will that Jesus should be crucified? Certain theories of the Atonement, of our being made right with God, require such a sacrifice. A righteous God necessarily must demand a sacrifice to atone for human sin. Thus, if we cannot offer the necessary sacrifice, then Jesus could. Jesus’ death on the cross was thus mandated in this theological schema. That’s one view of the Atonement.

What I find compelling is that the Roman Catholic Church has not established an official dogma of the Atonement. That is to say, there are varieties of theological theories of the Atonement out there, none of which, from a Catholic Magisterial perspective, is definitive.

Thus, there is room for a variety of theological perspectives on making sense of Jesus’ death. I happen to think that the crucifixion was the inevitable outcome of the nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission. Jesus was not afraid to speak the truth about God and how this truth would upend human business as usual. Thus, it was inevitable that what Jesus taught and what he did would get him into trouble with the various powers of the world who had the authority to put him to death.

But please note this in the passage from Mark and other versions of the Gospels: the crowds shout, “Crucify him!”

Many blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion, and such blaming has contributed to much Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism throughout the centuries.

Others will emphasize that the crucifixion was undertaken only by the authority and power of Roman imperial officials and armies.

But the Roman authorities bowed to the will of the crowds, the mob, who shouted, “Crucify him!”

Where does that leave us? Well, we’re in the crowds. And we are the ones, if we were present, may well have joined the herd mentality and yelled, “Crucify him!”

Fifth Sunday in Lent, John 12:20-33

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
    27Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Spring has sprung. Officially, this year, March 20. This is welcome and good news after a wet, snowy, icy, slushy and cold pandemic winter. And the ground is springing to life – crocuses, daffodils, some first dandelions, and more – all part of the intricate ecosystem just beneath our feet in our yards and parks and greenspaces, a wonder of natural cycles that takes place each year. This is my first early Spring in Arlington, which you have promised me is one of the most gorgeous seasons of the year in this area. I am delighting in this season of renewed life.

What in fact is going on out of sight and under the ground in the soil? What happens to seeds when they are planted? My brief foray into some botanical reading suggests that the seeds we plant are living and they remain alive as they undergo the complex process of germination, of sprouting forth life in new forms which rise up from the ground. In short, seeds that bear fruit are alive.

But the gospel writer John reports that Jesus said this: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Neither John nor Jesus were botanists. Moreover, they did not benefit from modern scientific knowledge and understanding. Again, according to my reading, dead seeds cannot germinate. They are dead and remain dead and cannot offer life. Death is death. What’s going on beneath are feet are cycles of life that beget more life. New growth in spring is life from dormancy, not death.

While John and Jesus may not be good scientists from our perspective, they are trustworthy heralds of divine truth, namely, that John’s Jesus points to a different kind of reality beyond natural cycles. In the case in point, that is, in what would befall Jesus, the reality is new life from death, not from dormancy, a truth that confounds scientific wisdom about natural cycles.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, John 3:14-21

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

14“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    16For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
    17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Thanks be to God, at this point in the pandemic many of us are receiving vaccinations. That multiple vaccines are available at all in just a year is a marvel of contemporary medical science. Historically, it usually has taken many years for vaccines to be developed, tested and approved. Again, thanks be to God.

And here’s the paradoxical wonder of it: a common approach to developing vaccines is to use forms of the virus itself in the vaccine in order to fight the virus. This seems counterintuitive at first and maybe rather scary and dangerous to get this close to a potentially deadly pathogen.

Indeed, the liquid that’s injected into our arms could contain traces and forms of virus. Hence, I gather, the reactions of our bodies to many vaccinations – soreness of the arm and swelling and redness and maybe flu-like symptoms. Our bodies’ immune systems begin to fight the introduction of the foreign matter – and that’s central to how we develop immunity.

Third Sunday in Lent, John 2:13-22

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

13The Passover of the Jewish people was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Judeans then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Judeans then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables in the temple in Jerusalem is certainly a dramatic moment, and perhaps quite unexpected from one whom we call Prince of Peace.

John records these words of Jesus: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

John further reports that the disciples remembered this saying in connection with Jesus, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Why was Jesus so passionate about what was going on in the temple with those selling animals and with the money changers?

In Jesus’ view, according to John, the temple was not to be a marketplace. It may well have been the case that Jesus was not against marketplaces per se, but that the place of the market was not the temple. Marketplaces had their place, just not in the holy temple set aside for the worship of God.

Buying and selling and changing money may have had the quality of idolatry – of giving over to things of lesser importance a greater prominence than they deserved.

Making the temple of God into a marketplace reveals a disorientation, a disordered quality that Jesus in John could not abide.

Jesus as an observant Jewish person would have been steeped and grounded in the Ten Commandments which are the focus of today’s first reading. These commandments set the record straight about what is most important. The first table of the law focuses on our relationship with God and the second, our relationship with each other.

With the Ten Commandments, if they are kept, all is well and in the proper and good order. Again, making the temple into a marketplace may have broken the letter and spirit of some of the Commandments, particularly concerning idolatry.

But there is also more going on in the gospel reading for today. A lot more.

Second Sunday in Lent, Mark 8:31-38

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

31Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

    34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again: “[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” These words constitute one of the passion predictions in Mark’s Gospel, an occasion when Jesus tells the truth about what is before him, giving focus to the nature of his ministry and mission.

Quite importantly, Mark reports that Jesus “said all this quite openly.”

Recall other occasions in Mark when Jesus sternly ordered the followers and others not to say anything about things they had just experienced with Jesus. Just prior to this story in Mark, Peter makes his confession about Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus response was this: “he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

Following today’s story in Mark is the account of the Transfiguration, which liturgically we commemorated a couple of weeks ago on the Last Sunday after Epiphany. Of all the dramatic goings on high on the mountaintop, again Mark reported that “As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9)

But about his suffering and death and promise of resurrection, Jesus was quite open.

Peter, who had just confessed Jesus as Messiah would have none of this. After Jesus spoke of his suffering and death, Peter “took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

As if to say, Peter sought to censure, chide, reprove, admonish Jesus for predicting his suffering and death. Or more viscerally, Peter sought to repel or beat back on Jesus for his open prediction of the grave and mysterious things that would happen to him.

Clearly such perceived bad news was not part of Peter’s vision for what the Messiah should be about.

It’s as if Peter was ashamed of a Messiah that would have to suffer and die, as suggested by Jesus’ words that Mark reports at the conclusion of today’s passage: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Which is to say, Jesus rebuked, or pushed back on Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine thing but on human things,” Jesus says to Peter in Mark.

Satan is the one who makes false accusations. By addressing Peter in connection with Satan, Jesus concludes that Peter’s vision of the Messiah is false and sourced in human logic and human expectations, not divine wisdom.

That’s when Jesus then elaborates on the wisdom of God in the presence of Peter and the other disciples and the crowd whom he gathered around himself: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Here we have the grand paradox of Jesus’ mission and our discipleship in relation to it. Striving to save our lives, we end up losing our life. Losing our life by letting go is the way to save our life.

First Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
    12And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
    14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

I’m struck by the destructive-creative energies explicit or implied in the readings for today.

The flood that destroyed all living things on the face of the earth save for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark is the context for today’s first reading in Genesis. That destruction was the matrix for the promise of a restored creation after the flood, and the covenant between God and Noah and descendants that never again would the world be destroyed by a flood.

The symbol of the covenant is the rainbow, a lovely meteorological effect and lightshow that can often follow destructive, severe weather.

In the passage from 1 Peter, today’s second reading, Jesus’ suffering and death in the flesh are featured prominently along with Christ’s resurrection and this in connection with baptism in connection with the flood – all of this destructive energy resulting in new creation. Even baptism is a drowning, but it’s an ending that births new life in Christ, a major move from a kind of destruction to new creation.

Then there’s the dramatic language in the brief passage from Mark’s Gospel. Listen again to the words and phrases that are full of energy that’s anything but peaceful and calm:

  • “And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
  • “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”
  • “He was in the wilderness forty day, tempted by Satan”
  • “And he was with wild beasts.”
  • “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (cf. Mark 1:9-15)

Heavens torn apart; the Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness; temptation by Satan; wild beasts; John’s arrest.

Again, sense the weight of these negative, perhaps destructive energies.

They can describe our current circumstances and realities:

  • We, too, find ourselves amidst worlds torn apart, especially now in our beloved country.
  • People in cutthroat competition for limited resources are driven by many and various energies, some quite destructive.
  • The pandemic landscape can seem like a wilderness in our social isolation without the infrastructure of our usual routines.
  • Temptations can abound in our lives in times like these.
  • Some might suggest that Satanic or diabolical, destructive forces are at play in our temptations.
  • Wild beasts of perhaps more metaphorical varieties lurk about. But isn’t also true that the coronavirus is a kind of wild beast?
  • Powers and principalities continue to arrest not just bad actors, but others striving for the good causes of justice.

These are precisely the realities which Jesus entered in his earthly life and ministry to proclaim good news that the dominion of God has come near.

These are precisely the realities where Jesus still enters to find us and to rescue us.

This rescue by Jesus has its dramatic expression in our own baptisms.

Baptismal themes are an undercurrent throughout today’s readings, with the recounting of Jesus’ own baptism in the gospel of Mark, but again also quite notably when the author of 1 Peter connects baptism with the days of Noah and the flood: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

When we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, we are flooded with water. Even if it’s just a sprinkling, it’s still a flood that drowns the old Adam of our sinful state. Coming up out of the water is our rebirth in Christ and into Christ’s body. Baptism is a kind of destruction that leads to new creation.

In the water, with the word and the Spirit, the destructive forces are transformed into creative forces both in our lives and for the life of the world.

Which is to say, the Spirit whose energies drive the creative realities of baptismal regeneration is the same Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness and then into ministry in Galilee. That same Spirit drives us also into the wilderness of our days and circumstances for our own share in God’s mission of rescue.

This mission of ours in and for the sake of the world may have the effect of yet again of seeming to tear the heavens apart and may propel us into places that don’t feel safe, places of temptation and wild beasts, perhaps even the risk of arrest.

The mission field can be fraught, but that’s precisely where we are called to echo the words of Jesus’ proclamation in the presence of our neighbors, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

All of this makes for an appropriate way indeed to begin our journey of Lent, our second Lent in this season of prolonged pandemic.

With faces set to Jerusalem, the place of cross and empty tomb, and our eyes fixed on the fonts which make for redemptive flooding, the dynamism of the Spirit’s energies mark our life together and drive us forward for the sake of the world. Amen.

And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

  • In what ways perhaps have you known the dynamics of destruction that can lead to new creation in your journey of faith, in your spiritual life?
  • What kinds of wilderness do you find yourselves in?
  • What good news might you proclaim to those whom you find there?

Transfiguration of Our Lord, February 14, 2021, Mark 9:2-9

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
    9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the last Sunday after Epiphany. Each Sunday in this season has offered up epiphanies, revelations that help us better understand Jesus and his sacred mission.

Today’s passage from Mark begins, “Six days later….” Well, six days after what? Six days after Jesus’ prediction of his passion, his suffering and death and his call for his followers to take up their cross to follow him – itself a major revelation in Mark about Jesus and his mission.

This passion prediction is the narrative context for Jesus’ ascending the high mountain apart with Peter, James, and John.

Once on the heights, Jesus was transfigured before them, “his clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”

The Greek word that’s commonly translated “transfigured,” is the word from which we get metamorphosis, which arguably might be better translated here as “transformed.” That is, Jesus was transformed before them. He underwent a metamorphosis.

Transfiguration suggests simply a change in appearance, a surface level reality. Transformation, or metamorphosis, suggests a more essential change, as when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

Transfigured or transformed, however you might understand it, it was still a pretty amazing thing – clothes dazzling white beyond any and all earthly efforts at bleaching, at whitening.

Moreover, Mark reports that Jesus was engaging in conversation with both Elijah and Moses, two of the most significant figures in Hebraic history. I wonder what they were talking about…. But one thing is clear from the story is that Jesus is revealed as having a prominence in keeping with and ultimately exceeding that of Elijah and Moses.

The event was so amazing, so terrifying to the disciples who accompanied Jesus up the high mountain that Peter was left to stammer out a suggestion: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (or booths), one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” An odd statement, out of the blue.

Mark reports that Peter said this because he did not know what to say since he was so terrified.

Then to add to the drama, a cloud overshadowed them all and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Perhaps this was the same voice that made the announcement at Jesus’ baptism – “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At the baptism, the voice was directed to Jesus. Here the voice and announcement are directed at the disciples.

As quickly as all of this came to pass, after the voice spoke from the clouds, everything vanished and became as normal again. Suddenly, the dazzle was gone, as were the cloud and voice, as were Moses and Elijah. It was just Jesus again with Peter, James and John.

So, what was this all about? What was the epiphany, the revelation, portrayed in Mark’s recounting of the Transfiguration?

Page 1 of 5