The Last Sunday after Epiphany/Transfiguration Sunday – March 6, 2011

Reading 1: Reading 2: Reading 3: Reading 4: 
Exodus 24:12-18Psalm 992 Peter 1:16-21Matthew 17:1-9

By Bruce G. Epperly

Transfiguration Sunday
Celtic Christianity speaks of “thin places,” spots where the divine and human touch each other in life-transforming ways. If we take the theological doctrine of “divine omnipresence” seriously, then every place and time reflects God’s presence and intentionality in partnership with creaturely creativity and freedom. Every place can be a thin place; every encounter a theophany in which God calls us to arise, shine, and act, for our light has come. Some moments, however, may more fully reflect God’s intentionality in the dynamic divine-human call and response. As the season of Epiphany portrays, God can choose to be more present in some places than others: for example, the incarnation, the encounters with Jacob and Moses, the call of Mary and Joseph, and the dream of the magi. But, even here in these life-defining experiences, creaturely responsiveness is still at work. Revelation, even divine revelation, implies a “receiver,” who shapes and embodies the revelation, a receiver who can say “yes” or “no” to the call of God. Even when we are “moved by the Holy Spirit,” as the words of 2 Peter assert, those who are moved experience the Spirit from their own unique vantage point. Still, all places and encounters can reveal something life-transfiguring about God and us.

Moses is called to the mountain by a mysterious and majestic power. First, to wait – to let go of control and open to divinity – and then to experience the majesty of God, a majesty that orients a people, creating a pathway to freedom and national identity. For Moses, transfiguration takes time – he stays on the mountain forty days, listening, recording, and remembering. He must patiently wait for God’s revelation to emerge at just the right time, the kairos moment when human openness meets divine intentionality.

Psalm 99 connects divine majesty with justice-seeking. The God of the universe is not merely a homogenous energy, following our desires and inclinations wherever they lead as some new age literature suggests, but a personal presence aiming at the creation of justice in society and order and beauty in the cosmos.

2 Peter purports to report the Transfiguration of Jesus, describing Jesus’ dazzling glory (revealing the very quantum energy of the universe itself) and the divine pronouncement that Jesus is God’s “Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” At that spiritually thin place, the disciples see Jesus as God’s revelation, transforming their lives and the world.

Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. While we are tempted to focus only on the transfiguration as authenticating Jesus’ unique relationship with God, which is its intention in its portrayal of Jesus as embracing and fully embodying the revelation given to Moses at Sinai, the transfiguration is also an invitation to see the whole earth revealing God’s glory. Transfiguring moments can occur anywhere: the glory of the living Christ can rise up in any encounter.

Transfiguration captures the spirit of Epiphany. The season of Epiphany begins with a world transforming star, guiding the magi from the East, and concludes with glory abounding on a mountaintop. The mood of Epiphany, perhaps more than Christmas, is a time of wonder and glory, radiating from a humble dwelling to encompass the whole earth. During Epiphany, we are given vision to experience God in our individual vocations and gifts and then in all persons and places. We are also reminded that politics and government have a vocation of justice-seeking so that all people have the opportunity to go from survival to beauty. This truly is a transfigured world.

The perceptive speaker might, through media, art, or flora, invite the congregation to experience life more deeply, to focus on the role of the senses – the doors of perception – that reveal the deeper realities of life. The point of transfiguration is appreciation – of wonder, beauty, depth, contrast – that leads to creative transformation. This opens us to experiencing life differently – as infinite and worthy of reverence – as the temple of God’s spirit.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements. Now retired, he served as co-pastor of Disciples United Community Church in LancasterPA, an open and affirmative, progressive and emerging congregation.