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The Last Sunday of Epiphany, Year A

Glimpses of Grandeur

Readings: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:12-18

Throughout this Epiphany season God has been revealed to us in many ways. We have worshipped with the Magi. We watched Jesus as he entered the waters of baptism in the Jordan River. We have talked about what it means to serve God. We have learned about the God we serve. We have been encouraged in our own sense of discipleship. We have reflected on the Beatitudes with their radical call to justice. We have struggled with what God requires of us. Today on this last Sunday of Epiphany we follow Jesus to the mountaintop where we see him transfigured before us. It is a mountaintop experience, which is intended to carry us through the forty-day journey that lies ahead of us and ends at the foot of the cross.

If you have ever been on a mountaintop you know that everything looks different from up there. I travelled one summer through the "Rockies". It was an awesome experience. I had seen postcards of Banff and some of the other scenic spots showing the beauty and grandeur of the mountains. But the experience of being there, of standing as if you are on the very edge of the world looking down on God's creation, is inexpressible. The breathtaking beauty is only part of the experience. To drive up and up on those winding roads, to feel the change in gears, to experience the change in atmosphere, are all part of it. I remember leaving Banff in the warmth of a summer day and then a couple of hours later having my breath taken away by the rush of cold air that greeted me as I stepped out of the car in Rogers Pass.

In the worldview of ancient Israel it was on the mountaintop that Heaven met Earth. God could be perceived more clearly and completely from the mountain. It was from the mountaintop that the most important revelations were issued. Indeed it is sometimes so far beyond our ability to understand God that we cannot begin to get a clear picture from where we usually live. We need to get away from the distractions and demands of everyday living to keep our vision clear and fresh.

The disciples who gathered around Jesus during his earthly ministry had left everything to follow Jesus. They may have assumed that their sacrifices would resolve into positions of wealth and glory. Did they think that Jesus was to be Israel's future king? Certainly Peter, James and John were in a wilderness time in their lives. The euphoria of following Jesus has been shattered by the revelation of what messiahship would involve. They have discovered that this is a call for Jesus, not to insurrection, but to rejection and death. How shattering that was for his faithful followers, especially coming so close on the heels of Peter's confession that Jesus is Messiah!

And so Jesus takes these three close disciples to the mountain where he is transformed or changed before them. "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white," we are told. It is a totally new way for the disciples of viewing Jesus – a view of the ultimate glory of righteousness. And then Moses and Elijah, both of whom experienced rejection and suffering, both of whom were expected to return in connection with the messianic age, are there with him.

No wonder Peter wants to enshrine it. He wants to hold the memory in a real and tangible way. He has caught a glimpse of glory. He doesn't want to lose it. But there is more. So much more! Once again God speaks those same words for the three that Jesus and John heard at his baptism in the Jordan River. "This is my Son, the Beloved! With him I am well pleased; listen to him!" If they have any doubts about who this is, they are dispelled. God is revealed to them.

We tend to think of "mountaintop experiences" as being ecstatic experiences, emotional highs. True revelations are very difficult to express to other people. I suspect that is because it is a uniquely personal experience. It is meaningful to the person within his or her own context. And so we search for the right words to describe our experience of God. It is that inexpressible quality that leads us to call those deep revelations "mountaintop experiences".

Those of us who live a normal Christian life spend most of our time with both feet firmly on the ground. We try to live the Christian life. We participate in worship. We give our time and talents to the work of the Church. We spend time in prayer and study. We try to live a good and moral life.

Life is not an easy journey. We all experience wilderness times in our lives, times of frustration, pain, suffering, difficulty. Sometimes it seems as if there will be no end to the wilderness time. When one thing after another happens to us, we ask the age-old questions. Why is this happening to me? Why must I suffer? Our faith comes into question. It is at those times that we call on our mountaintop experiences, those times when God was revealed to us in some inexplicable way that gave us a glimpse of glory.

It is those deep experiences of God that make it possible for people facing deep tragedy not only to sustain their faith, but to continue to affirm that God is a God of love, that God is there for them. When I look back over my life I become aware of many such moments. They are often just fleeting glimpses of the grandeur of God. The easy ones to express are times when I have experienced God through a great piece of music, a walk in the woods, a stimulating conversation with a friend, a synergistic moment when the right story or the right word came at exactly the right time. I have to say that some of them I would have great difficulty even beginning to explain to you. There have been moments of great clarity when I knew that God was with me. There have been times of prayer when I felt a deep connection to God. There have been times of danger when life was spinning out of control, and yet I knew that God was there.

They are not experiences that we can go looking for. They are ways in which God chooses to be revealed to us. It is about letting God lead us. It is about opening ourselves to God. It is about letting God come into relationship with us.

During this season we have reflected how God has been and is being revealed to us. We began and ended with the same words, “This is my Son the Beloved.” Hopefully those words are a wonderful reminder that God wants to come into relationship with us. God is powerful and mysterious beyond our understanding. It is through our relationship with Jesus that we glimpse the mystery a little more clearly and closely.

On Ash Wednesday we begin a wilderness time in the Church's year. We begin a forty-day journey that ends at the foot of the cross. We take with us a glimpse of the mystery of God. We take with us the knowledge that God wants to be in relationship with us, and that we too are beloved children of God. Amen. Alleluia!
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