The Transfiguration of Jesus – February 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
Epiphany blossoms into theophany, the quest for the revealing God leads to a dramatic manifestation of the divine. The doors of our perception are cleansed, as Aldous Huxley asserts, and we see everything as it is – infinite! Moses and Jesus are transfigured and those who witness are filled with awe and, dare we say, terror. Such mystical experiences and divine encounters partake in what Rudolf Otto describes as the mysterious, tremendous, and fascinating, and for at least a moment we are all mystics. We are ushered into a world in which anything is possible, in which God is alive, and we share somehow in this divinity.
Some have suggested that the problem of our times is ecstasy deficit. We have become so busy about our own affairs that we have lost the vision of beauty. We have tamped down wonder to consume, prophesy to profit, beauty to buy, and awe to acquire. We focus on the literal word of scripture and deny its wonder; we settle, as the apostle Peter notes, for the letter and not the life-giving Spirit. In the process, our beauty deficiency has led to making the Earth a garbage dump, as Pope Francis asserts. “Father/Mother, forgive us, we don’t know what we see.”
We are oblivious to the wonder of our being and all being, and see the world in terms of consumption, filling our deficiency with things, market share, and product placement. We don’t have time to marvel at a baby’s birth, a child’s laugh, a photo of a far off galaxy, a bird in flight, a whale breaching, or a couple walking hand in hand. We become objects to ourselves – we are what we tweet – and not beloved children, mysterious, wonderful, and a little wild. “Father/Mother, forgive us, for we don’t know who we are.”
Alfred North Whitehead affirms that aim of the universe, the aim of God, is toward the production of beauty. Beauty, for Whitehead, is not just a nice feeling; beauty is a deeply religious emotion that issues in ethical action. Morality involves bringing forth beauty wherever we find it. Defacing beauty is immoral, whether it involves our complacency at allowing millions of children to die or be diminished as a result of malnutrition, or choosing to prefer short term financial gain over protecting the planet. The experience of beauty, at best, leads to gratitude and an ethic of beauty-making and beauty-preserving. We feel with, Albert Schweitzer, a kinship and reverence for all life.
The Celtic Christians and pagans speak of “thin places” that are translucent to the divine, places where “heaven and earth meet” and God’s grandeur bursts forth in a craggy rock or grove of trees. Today’s scriptures describe such “thin places” of the Spirit: a fire on the mountain as Moses receives divine guidance and the illumination of Jesus as he talks with saints of old.Light bursts forth from our cells and souls at such moments, and we along with Moses and Jesus are transformed. The world is charged with the grandeur of God, as Hopkins says, and so are we.
We need as we look toward Lent, a transfigured perception and way of life. Epiphany is about abundance, Lent turns us toward simplicity. Yet, abundance and simplicity complement and inspire each other. Those who live by God’s abundance can live simply, so the planet might flourish. Their abundance precludes them from settling for the faux abundance of consumerism and power brokering. Their abundance inspires them to generosity rather than greed or hoarding of resources. Their abundance drives them toward interdependence and not individualism. Individual creativity, personal artistry, is not a result of isolated creation but the interplay of divine call and human response, creation’s bounty and human imagination.
The ethic of epiphany is about transfiguration. It is about transforming the world, reclaiming the garbage dump and creating a garden, reviving dying ecosystems and bringing new life to decimated environments, restoring broken communities and rejoicing in new forms of sustainable employment for those displaced by corporate greed and technological advancement.
This morning I reveled in choppy waves as I took my morning walk on Cape Cod. My senses were filled with wonder and my mind was inspired. I didn’t race home, but rejoiced in the sunrise moment, knowing that I would return home to write this commentary. With singer-song writer Carrie Newcomer, I anticipated the beauty of the beach flowing through me:
The empty page
The open book
Redemption everywhere I look.
Transfiguration of Moses, Jesus, and us, leads to redemption, not redemption from the world to a far off heaven or a destructive Second Coming, but redemption of the world, healing the good Earth. This is our calling today, our Great Work of Grace, to be God’s companions in healing the World.
Bruce G. Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, Centerville, MA. He is the author of forty books including The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh, A Center in the Cyclone: Twenty-first Century Clergy Self-care, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org