I think this story helps us enter into the rather odd story of the Transfiguration which we always hear on the last Sunday after Epiphany. And let’s be honest … the story is a bit weird. Jesus goes up on the mountain with Peter, James and John and they all see him talking to two dead guys?! Strains credulity, doesn’t it? Well, after Dawn’s encounter, maybe not so much.
The story opens by saying “after six days” Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up the mountain. What happened before six days? Well, six days earlier Jesus had the conversation with his disciples about his identity. “What’s the buzz in the street? Who do people say I am?” The answers come back “some say Elijah, others John the Baptist, and others one of the prophets of old.” While Moses is not specifically mentioned, he was considered among the great prophets of Israel as the story recounted of his death in Deuteronomy 34 says, “There has never arisen another prophet like Moses who knew the Lord face to face.” Jesus says, “Yeah, yeah, but who do YOU say that I am?” Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah!” He got that right! So six days after Peter confesses Jesus’ true identity, Peter goes with Jesus and two other disciples up the mountain to encounter Jesus, Moses and Elijah talking together. In an affirmation of Peter’s statement, we see that Jesus is clearly not Moses or Elijah – he is in fact, something more.
But now Peter, who earlier blurted out the right answer about Jesus’ identity, says something utterly clueless: “let us build three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Mark even tells us he didn’t know what he was saying for they were terrified. That seems to be one of the two responses we have in the face of witnessing something so extraordinary: total silence or say something stupid. Humans haven’t changed much. Then a cloud overshadows them and a voice says, “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him!” The phrase carries the connotation of “listen to him and keep on listening to him!” These are words that will be difficult to hold onto in the face of the crucifixion to come.
It is important to note that we are about to begin our Lenten journey together. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a day marked by fasting and penance where we are marked with ashes and told to remember we are dust and to dust we shall return. The season is marked by introspection where we examine our lives, let go of things which draw us away from God, confess where we have fallen short, ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation where possible. It prepares us to enter into the dramatic events of Holy Week so that we can connect to the source of such perfect love as one who would come to lay down his life for each of us.
Today, on this last day of Epiphany, we hear the recounting of a glimpse of the glorified Christ – a glimpse seen by the disciples and one which we occasionally even get ourselves in this life. The glorified Christ is the resurrected Christ and this glimpse today is the promise of what lies beyond the cross and the tomb – a life greater than we can imagine. A life unbound by the limits of time, space, and physicality. You see, that is the glimpse Dawn received of her grandfather last Wednesday – a glimpse of a man no longer bound by time and space but who now lives in the nearer presence of the glorified Christ. And it is this glorified Christ who comes to us through the Sacraments.
Today, we will baptize Brianne Nicole into Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. She will become part of Christ’s family – sealed as his own forever. It is the glorified Christ who comes to her through this sacrament and the same Christ who comes to us through the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. This is the Christ who is present to us always and everywhere throughout the many little deaths and resurrections which we will experience over the course of our lives. This pattern, one of death followed by resurrection, is the Christian life. It is not an easy journey. I really wish we could get to the glory of resurrection without dying first. That would be awesome … but it’s not how life works. Resurrection only comes after death – whether the death be a loss of something in this lifetime, or the final Death of our bodies. It is the glorified Christ who promises through these sacraments to walk with us each step of the way – through our life, through our death, and beyond.