The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
E. Bevan Stanley
February 23, 2020
From the Gospel: Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
When Jesus was baptized, there was a voice from heaven that said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He had not yet done anything yet, and God was already pleased with Jesus. Now, three years later, Jesus takes his three closest disciples up a mountain. There the disciples are given a vision of Jesus in his divine glory. Then the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” This will mark the start of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, where he will fulfill his earthly destiny. On both of these occasions, the declaration of God’s love empowers Jesus to carry out his mission. It is like a mother saying to her second grade child on a Tuesday morning, “I love you; go and make me proud.” It is love that empowers the performance.
Now let’s go back and look at the whole story. Six days earlier, Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter blurted out that he was the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus commends Peter for having this insight, and declares it to be a revelation from God. Now Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a mountain. On top he is transfigured. The Greek is “metamorphosed.” It means his form was changed. The text says, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” That is, in this new form he is revealed in his divine glory. This is another epiphany or manifestation of God in the human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Then Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus. They represent respectively the Law and the Prophets. It is important for us to remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted in the religion of Israel. We cannot understand Jesus if we do not grasp that Jesus is a Jew. Then comes the heavenly voice. “This is my Son; listen to him.” Jesus is more that either the Moses the law giver or Elijah the prophet; he transcends the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets express God’s word; Jesus is God’s word. God tells us to listen to him. On hearing the voice of God, the disciples are terrified and fall prostrate to the ground. Then the text says, “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”
What are we to make of this story? First there is the vision of Jesus in his
divinity and the voice of God. This paralyzes the disciples with terror and awe. They are incapacitated by the revelation. They cover their faces. Now Jesus comes to them, tender and comforting. He touches them. He tells them, “Get up and do not be afraid.” As they raise their heads and look around, they see him alone and restored to his normal mortal form. Moses and Elijah are gone. The radiance is gone. They have their friend back. Only now they know more clearly who he really is.
Finally, as the four are descending the mountain, Jesus tells them to tell no one until after he dies and is resurrected.
On this the last day before Lent begins, the Church invites us to an experience of awe. We see Jesus in his divine glory. This very building is built to remind us of the glory of God and invite us to worship. We come not get something we need, as if we were going to the Stop and Shop. We do not come to find some peace and quiet. No. We come to worship God Almighty. We come to praise God for being God. We come to be awed and overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty and love of God. Only then might we feel the touch on our shoulder or the whisper in our heart that says. It’s OK. It’s me, Jesus. Get up and do not be afraid.
This is what we will need for our journey toward Jerusalem and the terrible and wonderful events that we will experience there. We need to know we are children of God. We need to know that we are loved. We need to get up and not be afraid. We need to walk with Jesus on this path without fear, knowing we are loved, and that the most ordinary things and people in our lives are disguises for the glory of God.
In the words of Second Peter: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
This is our mountain top. Now we follow Jesus to Jerusalem. We will not speak of his glory until Easter, when he is risen from the dead. Now Jesus comes to us, tender and comforting. He touches us and tells us, “Get up and do not be afraid.”