Transfiguration Sunday 22 February, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Transfiguration/Last Epiphany February 22, 2009 Textweek

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

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

The Old Testament reading and the gospel today both contain graphic accounts that are beyond the scope of our everyday experience - Elijah being carried off to heaven on a chariot of fire and Jesus being transformed into glowing white, alongside Moses and Elijah. To some these events are unbelievable; to others - it’s interesting to read some of the bible commentaries – others seek to provide some pseudo-scientific rational explanation for these events. What appear to us as events can be more fully understood if we see them as process; in other words, if we see that events can either be a snapshot of a process or a catalyst for a process. Couple of examples: birth. Birth can be viewed as an event, a moment in time, a coming into life and yet it can also be viewed as the process of coming into being, an on-going process. Likewise baptism: baptism could be seen as a one-off event, the making of a Christian; this morning in that event, Isaac and Mungo were seized from the great unwashed and turned into Christians. And yet we do know that becoming a Christian is a process and so the process rather than the event of baptism continues.

If we look again at the Old Testament reading and rather than be distracted by the special effects, just have a look at the components of the process that’s being given to us in that reading. We find there are companions, Elijah and Elisha, travelling together. We find there is commitment – three times Elisha affirms that he is staying with Elijah. There is the crossing of the Jordan on dry land, a movement towards the Promised Land and that also provides us with a recalling of Moses at the Red Sea, a recalling of Joshua who crossed the Jordan in the same way - there is a path created through the waters of chaos. Creation begins with the separation of the waters.

There’s continuity in the face of an impending end – Elisha will inherit the life of Elijah. Then there’s the intriguing ‘keep silent’, that first occurs in verse 3. ‘The company of prophets who were in Bethel (translating into the dwelling place of God) came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And Elisha replies, "Yes, I know; keep silent." One of the theoretical abstractions of quantum physics things only come into being when they are seen or when they are spoken into reality, in other words there is nothing that is real unless it is observed, seen and acknowledged. I wonder if that is why the ‘keep silent’ is there – does Elisha seek to deny Elijah’s ascension. Three times they encounter the prophets; does that mirror the threefold denial of Peter that we will come to in the Easter narratives? The dialogue between Elijah and Elisha makes explicit Elisha’s orientation and that’s made explicit by Elijah asking, ‘Tell me what I may do for you’. As I wrote that down I put a note underneath: ‘Write that one down and ponder your answer during the forty days of Lent’, and I thought I’ll add that to the Lent materials this year. ‘Tell me what I may do for you’. How would each of you answer that if that was asked of you?

Finally we get to the chariots of fire and the horses of fire. On this day of mourning for the victims of the Victorian bushfires fires may bring up images of destruction – quite rightly so; run with the images it brings up. Fire is also is a symbol of the presence of God – it recalls us again to the encounter that Moses had at the burning bush. These are components of a process that we are given in the narrative and they’re there as reference points to engage our story in the divine story – what hooks me, what resonates with my life as I hear in that narrative the idea of companions walking with another, of a life that is unfolding, that becomes whole and full to the point that it is raised to heaven? Where do I see that life and where do I seek to continue in those footsteps? What journey do I make through the waters of chaos.

The same reflective process invites us to enter into the Transfiguration. It’s a stunning image. It begins, ‘Six days later’, which immediately echoes the timing of Genesis, the culmination and the wholeness of the creation. The dazzling white mirrors the encounter between Moses and God – Moses’ face shone so brightly that he had to wear a veil, otherwise he would dazzle people – the same process is being told. The voice from the cloud, ‘This is my son, the beloved’, is the quote written on the stained glass window above the font. They’re the words that come from heaven at the baptism of Jesus; it’s the words that occur in the very first few verses of Mark’s gospel, which is the gospel we’re reading. Then Jesus ordered them (in verse 9), ‘Tell no one about what you have seen’ – we get that same ‘keep silent ‘ that occurred in the narrative of Elijah and Elisha. Both narratives are talking about inner processes. That’s why you need to tell no one, that’s why you can keep silent – these are not transformations into ‘Look how good I am, everybody’, these are inner, deep inner movements about being and becoming, and very much when we feel and hear them that way, they very much reflect the annunciation to Mary, which she pondered in her heart. That movement, the movement of the Divine, the transformation, the transfiguration is birthed within.

As we listen to these narratives perhaps we can see that rather than waiting for the second coming, we are invited to look to the heavens, to seek that which is above the gravity of the world. We’re invited to see the Divine made manifest - where do we see the flames of the Divine? We’re invited to hear the divine voice, ‘You are my Beloved with whom I am well pleased’. We’re invited to pick up the mantle, the spirit that will enable us also to separate the waters of chaos and walk on dry land. We are, in these readings, invited to encounter the Divine.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris