March 03, 2019
Today, the last Sunday after Epiphany, we arrive at another transition point in our pilgrimage through the church calendar. Epiphany’s celebration of the glory of God concludes with the theme of transfiguration. Today, we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Today, we hear the voice of God telling us to pay attention.
All three of our synoptic gospels tell the same story. It is so important that on August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the church gives us another opportunity to hear it again.
The more I read the Transfiguration story, the more I find to think about. With each new reading, I find myself with a fresh thought that leads me through a different perspective. Another story like it is recorded by all three synoptic Gospels immediately before our reading for today—it is the story where Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
Indeed, who do we say that Jesus is?
In our Gospel today, Jesus, Peter, John, and James climb a mountain. While Jesus prays, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear, in glory, to talk with Jesus about his exodus. The disciples respond to this experience with awe. They become deeply aware of God’s presence and hear a voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Still in awe, now the disciples are speechless. Holy awe, it seems, requires time to unpack before we can find the words to speak about what we’ve experienced.
Two things to notice: God’s glory was revealed in Jesus’ face—a human face, and we are told to pay attention.
In today’s epistle, Paul says the most amazing thing about this. We should underline verse 18 in our Bibles and reflect on it often. “All of us,” Paul says, “with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord . . ., are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
Listen to what Paul has to say today about our call to a lifelong journey of transformation: it rises not from our own effort, rather from allowing the Spirit to do its work in us while we keep our gaze upon the face of Jesus. It is the Spirit that softens hearts and changes lives. We just show up—maybe with nothing more than a glimmer of curiosity, we just show up.
Paul isn’t just talking about the way we look at God, or Jesus. Paul is talking about the way we gaze at the life-giving spirit in the faces of one another. Paul wants us to remove the veil imposed by “the world” and to see the light of Christ in our everyday lives, and to be transformed by it. Where do we see that light? If we are paying attention, we see it everywhere.
Here is one of my own examples that I draw from relationships created through my Daughters of Abraham Interfaith Book Group. We are a group of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women who have been meeting since 2011 to talk about how we live out our faith.
At one of our monthly gatherings, the Jewish women explained The Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith. I, for one, had a lot of questions about principle number 12, their belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era. At the end of an enlightening discussion, the Orthodox Jew in our group looked directly at me, with tears in her eyes, and said something like this: “Last month, Deb, you talked about Christian Hope. In our Orthodox Jewish tradition, every generation hopes that they will be the generation to bring in the messianic era. As I sit at this table with women from three different faith traditions having these conversations and really caring about one another, I am amazed that this is happening--we all see each other as an extension of G-d,” she said. We all see each other as an extension of G-d. The Daughters of Abraham, she said, is an example of what her Jewish community expects to see happening in the messianic era.
Eighteen women responded with silence and eye contact that spoke volumes, hearts touching hearts, in awe, as we sat within that thin place and acknowledged the truth in the moment, forever changed by it.
When I am asked why I started the Daughters of Abraham, I often quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "...we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference." I am an example of that as my faith is enlarged, with depth, as I learn more and more from this diverse group of women. Rabbi Sacks has also said that “the supreme religious challenge is to see God's image in one who is not in our image."
It’s not just the faces of folks from different faith traditions though. It’s other faces like the examples we have in our gospel today: a discouraged, exhausted, and desperate father crying for help; a young boy convulsing out of control; confused disciples feeling the pain of failure and not knowing what to say. It’s a mosaic of faces that shows us the face of God.
So, what does the face of Jesus look like?
The New Testament itself is what Jesus looked like. Frederick Buechner reminds us (as does Paul) that we “glimpse the mark of [Jesus’] face in the faces of everyone who ever looked toward him or away from him, which means finally of course that we glimpse the mark of him also in our own face.” Paul says we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
Just as Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, so must we. Lent is a time to prepare for the difficult and scary times we face, like Peter, when we must decide to stand up and say whether we know who Jesus is, or not. Lent is a time to prepare our ears to hear who Jesus says he is. Lent is a gentle but also demanding time. Lent is a time to take pains to pay attention to faces, including our own. Lent is a time to prepare our eyes for Easter’s morning Light.
The Church offers us scriptural readings, symbols, space, and disciplines to surround us with ways to help us to consciously walk our lifelong journey of transformation. Beginning this week, we will have the opportunity to be marked with dust, the opportunity for confession, the opportunity for adoration, the opportunity for our liturgy to draw us further into Life and Love through Holy Communion, silence, prayer, and music. We just need to show up and allow the Spirit to work.
Aspire to climb that Holy Mountain; aspire to bring your experience back to your everyday life. Pay attention to God’s glory in human faces. Pay attention to the journey for what it is and see it whole—a lifelong journey filled with grace and freedom. Be prepared, even in Lent, especially in Lent, to stand in Holy Awe, seeing one another as an extension of God.
i. The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story, Frederick Buechner
ii. The Message version of 2 Corinthians 3:18.