The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Today is the last Sunday in our season of Epiphany. The word Epiphany means showing forth or manifestation or appearance. An epiphany can be that “aha” or eureka moment in which everything becomes utterly clear. Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have been hearing stories of manifestations of Jesus in the world, stories of the showing forth of Jesus to the world, stories of “aha” moments, when Jesus’ reality became clear to people.
The season began with the story of the magi or wise men, the classic story of Jesus’ manifestation to the Gentiles, the realization this baby would not only be a king, but would be the king of kings.
Then we heard about Jesus’ manifestation at his baptism in the river Jordan, when John baptized him, and the Hoy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and we heard the voice proclaim, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”
After the baptism, we heard the epiphany at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, the first miracle in John’s Gospel, when Jesus turned water into wine.
Then we had a couple of weeks exploring the epiphany in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, in the synagogue, when he proclaimed that Scripture had been fulfilled, after he read the passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” And we heard the about an Epiphany rejected, when the majority of the people there refused to accept what he had to say.
And finally, today, we hear our final epiphany for the season, the epiphany up on the mountain, with Peter, John, and James, when Jesus became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared, and the cloud descended, and a voice again spoke, saying: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
For Peter, John, and James, this must have been a shocking epiphany. Moses and Elijah were the two great heroes of the faith, and the two of them represented the two great pillars of their faith- Moses represented the law, Elijah represented the prophets.
The law and the prophets. You probably remember that expression from the greatest commandment. Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Basically, loving God and neighbor was how we sum up the faith, as understood in these two great pillars of the faith – the law and the prophets. And here was Jesus, standing by the two great leaders who, at least, represented, if not embodied, these two great pillars of law and prophets. In Jesus, the entirety of the faith was contained. In Jesus, the hope was fulfilled.
Epiphanies are those proverbial mountain-top moments, those moments when something suddenly becomes clear in ways that it never has before. Whether that moment takes place down where the ground is literally flat, like the other epiphanies of this season, or if it takes place on an actual mountain-top, like this epiphany at the transfiguration, or like Moses when he saw God face to face on Mt. Sinai, and his face shone, epiphanies make everything clearer, and in divine epiphanies, the thing made clearer is God. God has been manifested in these epiphanies we have been exploring this season, in particular, the divinity found in Christ.
And like many of us, when Peter, John, and James have their mountain-top moment, they want to stay there. “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings” They want to linger in that moment up on the mountain, where everything is clear, where they know that they are in the presence of something holy, where they know that they are in the presence of God.
But they can’t. They knew not what they were saying, says Scripture, because one cannot stay on the mountain-top moment for ever. It’s true for them, and it’s true for us. The mountain-top may seem nice in the moment, but those moments are fleeting, they never last, and we have to come back down. And that’s okay. It may be clear to the disciples that God is present with them in that moment, but God will be present with them when they come off of the mountain, too. God will be present with them when they are in the valley. That’s where we spend most of our lives, isn’t it? Not on the mountain, but in the valley, in the seemingly boring moments of life, in the routine and regularity. Musicians spend thousands upon thousands of hours perfecting their craft, with redundant scales and exercises, all to create the beautiful experience of a few moments of heavenly music. Painters spend thousands up thousands of hours with their pencils and their brushes, practicing lines and circles, all to create the beautiful paintings that we enjoy. Runners spend thousands of hours doing drills and exercises for just a few races each year. The majority of life is made up of the basic routines of life. And even there, God is with us.
The only question is if we recognize it. Do we recognize God’s presence with us when we are commuting to work or washing the dishes? Do we recognize God’s presence with us when we are playing with our children or caring for an aging parent? Do we recognize God’s presence with us when we greeting a stranger or catching up with an old friend? Do we recognize God’s presence with us in the everyday moments of our lives, or are we asleep like the disciples on the mount of transfiguration almost were?
This coming Wednesday, we will begin our journey through Lent. It is the opposite of a mountain-top moment. It is not even really the valley either. It is a journey through the desert wilderness, as we move to the cross. And yet, in the sparseness of Lent, God will be with us. And maybe, if we are able to embrace the Lenten call to let go, we might open up the space in our lives to recognize more clearly the daily epiphanies of God’s abiding presence with us. God isn’t only found on the mountain-top. God is right here with us, in this church, in our homes, in our waking, and in our sleeping. God is here with us in every moment of our lives, and God’s presence is only waiting to be seen. And when we recognize the subtle ways that God is with us in the everyday, if we can become mindful that God is with us in the mundane, in the commonplace, in the mountain and the valley, when we can feel that deep and abiding presence of God as a part of our normal way of being, then we can rest comfortably in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Amen.