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Sermon: O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair

Preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill February 7, 2016 for the Last Sunday after Epiphany.

Transfiguration Sunday, Year C (RCL): Exod. 34:29-35; Ps. 99; 2 Corinth. 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36.

         In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

         Today is Transfiguration Sunday, where we straddle between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of yet another church season. Later this week, we’ll be feasting on pancakes, bacon, and sausages to celebrate Shrove Tuesday before we enter into that holy and blessed penitential season of Lent.

           Today signals the transition from the Incarnational Cycle of God breaking forth into the world through the birth of Jesus to the Paschal Cycle of Christ which culminates with the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. We have an Epiphany hymn that I think describes this odd time and this unique event in far more lovely words than I could ever write. It’s Hymn 137, if you want to hold that open...

“O wondrous type, O vision fair

of glory that the church may share,

which Christ upon the mountain shows,

where brighter than the sun he glows!”

           Our lessons today from Exodus, Second Corinthians, and the Gospel according to Luke tell us that witnesses to the glory of God will be unable to avoid reflecting that glory in the world. This is the “Glory that the Church may share.” It was true of Moses as he came down from Mt. Sinai to renew God’s Covenant with the people of Israel. It was undoubtedly true also for Peter, James and John when they witnessed the meeting of the Law, represented through Moses, and the Prophets represented by Elijah, with Jesus, God’s Incarnate Word in the World.

           We pray that it will be true of all of us also who see the glory of the Lord in the world, and in the Eucharistic supper to which we all join around this table, and in those who are being “transformed into the same image” by the Spirit of God.

           God is always being revealed in ways that can both surprise and confuse us, whether it be shining forth from the face of Moses on a mountaintop, or in the dazzling appearance of Jesus, or after Christ dies on the Cross and later rises from the tomb. God’s presence and God’s glory is a mystery to us. But the Mystery therein is what we seek, and what we seek to share with our world.  


Verse two of the hymn:

“With Moses and Elijah nigh

the incarnate Lord holds converse high;

and from the cloud, the Holy One

bears record to the only Son.”

           Today we have two different mountain-top experiences: Mt. Sinai of the Old Testament and the Mount of Transfiguration in the New Testament, where the same illuminating Glory of God shines forth. We know, because of the first prediction of the Passion, that another mountain looms ahead, ... one outside the walls of Jerusalem ... where a cross waits.

           Moses’ long communion with God shows in his face when he returns to the people: he actually begins to reflect something of God’s own glory. God was in him and shining out, just as the face of Jesus “did shine as the sun” when he was transfigured. The Transfiguration was a sort of grand climatic testimony direct from heaven that Jesus was The One in whom all Old Testament prophecies converged and found their fulfillment. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” The dazzling appearance helped confirm the faith of the disciples in the Divine Nature of Christ against the shock of the days to come. It was the Holy One bearing record to the Only Son. God’s future broke into the present to reveal God’s Glory, as the third verse goes on to claim:

“With shining face and bright array,

Christ deigns to manifest today

what glory shall be theirs above

who joy in God with perfect love.”

           But Jesus’ suffering and death is enclosed in this dazzling foreshadowing of the Resurrection, this Transfiguration. Here God affirms Jesus’ identity. The disciples are stunned speechless. We begin to understand the Jesus that we put on the Cross is the One who will save us. In fact, in the bracketed verses of today’s Gospel that we did NOT hear, Jesus comes down from the mountain to resume his mission with a demonstration of power over evil by rebuking an unclean spirit that has long convulsed a youth. We might say that Jesus gives us a great example of how to JOY in God, as the hymn says--isn’t it great to have JOY become a verb? Jesus’ healing -- which astounds all the people -- is “joy in God with perfect love.”

           In his debate with the Corinthians, Paul contrasts the glory of Moses with the glory of Christ. The Israelites were afraid of Moses’ face because of the brightness and then it began to fade so Moses veiled it from the people. But in Christ we see the true unveiled glory of God and by seeing it fully, we are transformed into Christ’s likeness. The old covenant had been replaced by a new life-giving one.

           Here’s the poetry again:

“And faithful hearts are raised on high

by this great vision’s mystery;

for which in joyful strains we raise

the voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.”

           Transfiguring Love has frustrated disciples, both past and present. Many have sought an unmediated experience of God. Yet even when God is revealed in shining glory, there is much that remains veiled and hidden from us. There is Mystery. And conversely, that which is God within us may be shrouded and not seen. But in our baptism, we are called to remove these veils, we are called to show that great mystery that has transfigured our lives.

           Today, we celebrate a baptism at 10:30. It’s been a great season of baptisms here at Immanuel -- this will be the third since Epiphany began. This Transfiguration Sunday, Aria Camilla Enright joins Matthew Whelpley and James Hennigan as we leave Bethlehem, move through Galilee, and set our sights toward Jerusalem. As we walk with Jesus along The Way, we get a sense that this transfiguration will be accomplished, because we are doing what Jesus commissioned us to do -- proclaiming his good news, teaching and making disciples, and baptizing. THIS is how we see a glimpse of God’s glory. We look into heaven, and there with the Law and the Prophets, we see God’s time breaking open out of sequence to show us the Salvation of the World through Jesus, which we share through the sacrament of baptism. We need no booths built to mark the place of God for God is everywhere, yet we mark our bodies as our booths by the sign of water and the cross. And Time as we know it moves from chronos to kairos, when the time of God is fully present, at all times and in all places.

           The last verse of the hymn is a prayer:

“O Father, with the eternal Son,

and Holy Spirit, ever One,

vouchsafe to bring us by thy grace

to see thy glory face to face.”

           This verse reminds me of the welcome we offer at the end of each baptism, where we say -- and you can say it with me if you’d like -- “we receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim His resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”        And it sums up the meaning of both transfiguration and baptism. This hymn, for me, encapsulates it all: This is the glory that the church may share. This is bearing record to the Only Son. This is Joy in God with perfect love. This is this great vision’s mystery.

           So I ask you to consider: How do you put flesh and blood on the impulse of the Spirit of Christ that is in you? How will you help show someone, anyone, the transfigured glory of Christ “face to face”? And in what ways will you remember to “joy in God with perfect love?”

           This might be a good exercise to observe a holy Lent.