Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“In the Face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)
February 11, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many years ago as a youth minister at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Sheridan, Wyoming, I was asked by one of our favorite families to video the high school graduation of their daughter Lindsey, their only child. I was honored, and I wanted to be prepared, so I arrived at the auditorium really early, got a seat with a great angle, set up the tripod and was all set to go. I recorded the entire graduation and was proud of the keepsake I had created for this beloved family.
Later on after the graduation party the family sat down with me and Steph to watch the video. The sound was fine, crystal clear, but the screen was blank. Our friends checked out the TV but the TV was fine, same with the VCR. Then they realized what had happened. I had never taken the lens cap off the video camera. Can you imagine? So they could listen to the high school graduation of their one beloved child as much as they wanted, but they could never see it again, all because Yours Truly forgot to take off the lens cap. They thought it was hilarious; me, not so much.
Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany, the season during which we focus on God revealing his glory through his Son Jesus Christ. The gospel lesson for this Sunday is always an account of a powerful episode of this revealing of God’s glory: the transfiguration—as Mark writes, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3). Metaphorically, Jesus removed the lens cap.
At Jesus’ transfiguration God the Father reiterated from heaven the same words he proclaimed at his baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved” and added a brief exhortation, “Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). Peter, James and John saw the glory of God in Jesus Christ, whose face, as Matthew notes, “shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). Moreover, two great figures from the Old Testament also appeared with Jesus: Moses, representing “the law,” and Elijah representing “the prophets.”
Just as Peter, James, and John saw the glory of God in Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, Moses and Elijah had also seen the glory of God a mountain. Scripture describes Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai this way:
Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel (Exodus 24:15-17).
Centuries later on Mount Horeb Elijah experienced the glory of God differently from Moses but just as powerfully:
(God) said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13).
The glory of God revealed to Moses and Elijah was later revealed to Peter, James, and John, but on a deeper level. For on another occasion Moses had asked the Lord, “Show me your glory, I pray,” and the Lord had responded:
I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20).
And yet on the Mount of Transfiguration God revealed his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, a face Peter, James, and John were allowed to see, a face all of us are allowed to see in our hearts, as the Apostle Paul describes in today’s epistle reading: “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul refers to the first verses of the Bible:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Genesis 1:1-3).
Before creation “the earth was a formless void.” As a kid my common sense was also “a formless void” as evidenced by the fact that my friends and I used to spend hours exploring the drainage sewers in our neighborhood (not the sewage sewers, the drainage sewers). We would begin at the cement entrance at the reservoir a mile or so away and feel our way through the pitch darkness until we found a manhole cover in our neighborhood we could push open from underground.
It was absolutely pitch dark, and although it was fun, it was always a huge relief to see the two little beams of sunlight shining through the holes of a manhole cover in the distance. One time we got really turned around and had lost all sense of direction. We just kept going forward, feeling our way through the pitch dark. Finally we saw those amazing two little beams of light, and as we pushed up the manhole cover, guess where we found ourselves? Right in front of my house. True story. My father, who had told me in no uncertain terms to stop doing this, was sitting on the front porch, but that’s another sermon for another time.
When I was not crawling through our neighborhood drainage sewers I was listening to the radio. Growing up in the 1980’s I was a big fan of legendary drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, both with the band Genesis and as a solo artist. When I was seventeen he released a single from his Grammy-winning 1985 album No Jacket Required called “Take Me Home,” a song that really resonated with me:
Seems so long I’ve been waiting, still don’t know what for
There’s no point escaping, I don’t worry anymore
I can’t come out to find you, I don’t like to go outside
They can’t turn off my feelings like they’re turning off a light
But I, I don’t mind
No I, I don’t mind…
Take, take me home ‘cause I don’t remember
Take, take me home, oh Lord
‘Cause I’ve been a prisoner all my life
In his 2016 autobiography, Not Dead Yet, Phil Collins reveals what I think may have been part of why he was longing for someone to take him home: “Dad never did grasp the idea of me wanting to play music for a living. He had little or no interest in music generally, especially in the kind that was being made in the sixties” (101). Phil Collins’ dad died on Christmas Day, 1972, when Phil was twenty-one. He vulnerably shares:
I find myself thinking something that will preoccupy me at various moments, in various shades, for years to come: did Dad, at the end, think his son had made the right decision? Was he impressed by my finally making a living, albeit via an unorthodox route? I’d like to think he would, ultimately, have been proud, but I’ve often wondered what would have been the tipping point. Maybe filling four nights at Wembley (Stadium)? Or “My son, playing for the Prince of Wales—marvelous.” The royal seal of approval would have bestowed the paternal seal of approval. That would have clinched it (102).
There are many people who in their hearts are feeling their way along through the pitch dark, feeling like they have been a prisoner all their life, longing for someone to take them home. And in those dark places in our hearts God proclaims, “Let there be light,” God reveals his glory “in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Mark notes that Jesus’ transfiguration occurred six days after Jesus had told something to his disciples. Do you remember what Jesus told them? Mark tells us that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). In the same way Moses waited for six days before seeing the glory of God on Mount Sinai, Peter, James, and John waited six days before seeing the glory of God on the Mount of Transfiguration.
And the revelation of God’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, as Jesus’ face “shone like the sun,” foreshadowed an even greater revelation of God’s glory on a different mountain, Calvary. Scripture tells us Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), that the week he died Jesus asked his Heavenly Father, “Glorify your name” to which God the Father responded in an audible voice just like at the transfiguration, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Jesus then proclaimed, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:28-33). And on Good Friday the face of Jesus that “shone like the sun” on the Mount of Transfiguration was slapped and spit on (Matthew 26:67), covered with sweat and blood. And Jesus was indeed lifted up on the cross on Mount Calvary where he bore “the judgment of this world” in your place, where God revealed his glory in showing mercy to a dark imprisoned world, where God revealed himself historically and definitively as the God, as we pray, “whose glory is always to have mercy” (The Book of Common Prayer 218).
Jesus’ death fulfilled all the requirements of the law and the prophets represented by Moses and Elijah. Jesus’ death means both the “royal seal of approval” of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and “the paternal seal of approval” of your Heavenly Father have been bestowed on you. Jesus’ death “clinched it.”
And this means that God will take off the lens cap from your eyes, that you too will see God face to face, that as Paul also wrote to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). What will this be like? I’ll close with this story from the late Brennan Manning:
One of the many documented miracles that have occurred in Lourdes, France took place in 1957. A French father took his ten-year-old son, blind from birth, on a pilgrimage from Brittany to Lourdes. At the shrine, the child begged his father to pray for him. His dad prayed aloud, “Lord, give my boy his sight.” Instantly, the boy could see. He looked around. He saw flowers, trees, green grass, the open sky. Then he looked into his father’s eyes, the eyes that went with the only voice he had known during ten long years of darkness and loneliness. When he saw his father, do you know what he said? “Oh boy. Everybody’s here!” (Lion and Lamb 140-141).
By the power of the Holy Spirit may God take the lens cap off in your heart today, so that you can see the glory of God’s mercy to you, so that in your heart you too may see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” who in his time will indeed take you home.