Fr. John Allison
Last Epiphany B
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
February 11, 2024
Christ Church, Hudson
Today we have reached an end. This is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, and our Gospel reading relates what might be considered the ultimate epiphany, the ultimate manifestation of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Through each of these last six weeks we have had little glimpses of action that have revealed aspects of who Jesus is: his Baptism by John, various healing and exorcisms, events that have gotten everyone in the region of Galilee talking about just who this Jesus is.
Our reading today from Mark picks up the action six days after a pivotal moment that we haven’t read in the preceding weeks but I think is important as we seek to understand Jesus’ Transfiguration. Following the feeding of the five thousand and the healing of a blind man Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?” Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah or one of the prophets. “And who do you say that I am?”
It’s Peter who responds: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter knows. Peter has seen the miracles, has heard the teachings, and yet, what follows betrays the fact that he still doesn’t really understand. Jesus begins to teach them that about his suffering, about his crucifixion at the hands of the authorities and even about his eventual Resurrection, but Peter cannot hear it. He rebukes Jesus, we are told. This can’t happen. You are the Messiah, the son of God. Peter knows who Jesus is but does he really grasp what it means? Do any of us really understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah? Do we, like Peter, want to hold onto Jesus, fit him into what we think he ought to be?
These are the questions I’ve had in mind this week as Jesus has led Peter, James, and John to be with him at the top of a high mountain. The mountain has been variously identified as Mt. Hermon, Carmel, or Tabor, but the exact location is not so important as the fact that mountains represent places of Divine revelation, thin places. It’s here, then, Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of his startled disciples. The text says, “his clothes became a dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” the point being that Jesus is changed. Or, perhaps a better way to put it is that his appearance is altered so that the disciples can see him differently. And then, to further illuminate his identity, there appear with him, Elijah and Moses. These key figures in Israel’s history, representing the law and the prophets, standing with Jesus, conversing with him.
And yet, do the disciples really understand what they are seeing? Peter calls to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Rabbi. Not Lord. Not Messiah. Rabbi. Teacher. There is a part of Peter that still hasn’t grasped the full significance of what he has seen. They are terrified, we are told, and perhaps fear prevents Peter from fully grasping what he sees. Or perhaps fear makes him want to hold all the more tightly to what has been, to preserve his own expectation of what it means that Jesus is the Messiah. Fear makes us all grasp tightly, hold on tightly to what we think we know.
And yet, it’s in a great cloud that God speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” It’s in a great cloud that God reveals, definitively, who Jesus is and, just as importantly, what the disciples are to do: “Listen to him.” Herein lies the irony of discipleship, the paradox of discipleship. Clarity is not always found as we expect it. Sometimes God speaks through the clouds and murkiness of uncertainty and it takes a willingness on our part to really listen. It takes faith to not become so attached to what we think we know, what we want to happen, what we think ought to be, that we can open ourselves to really see Jesus, to really see God as revealed in creation.
Today, this last Sunday after the Epiphany is, as I said, an end. But, it also marks a threshold as we move into the season of Lent. For the last six weeks we have been watching Jesus, listening to him, as he is revealed as the the Messiah. On Wednesday, with the imposition of the ashes and the beginning of Lent, we let go of what we think we know. Lent is about emptying ourselves, about being in the wilderness with Jesus. We know who he is. We have heard his teachings. We have seen his miracles. And now, we are called to follow him—yet again.
This time, as he turns to Jerusalem, to suffering and death, we are called to follow him to something that doesn't always makes sense. We are called to follow him in spite of where we think we want to go. We are called to follow him into a place of temptation, eventually into the darkness and violence of the crucifixion no matter how much we want to skip ahead to resurrection.
Today we stand at that threshold and, even as we see God in all his glory as revealed in Christ, we know that we can’t stay there—not yet. We can’t hold on, we can’t grasp after what we want it to mean. We must let go. We must, as the voice says from the cloud, “Listen to him.” We must trust and in trusting, we are freed from the fear that binds us and keeps us from really seeing Jesus, from really understanding who he is and what he has come to do.
Over these next weeks that’s what we will be doing in our Lenten disciplines and practices. The word Lent comes from an Old English root that means spring time and is related to the lengthening of days. As we stand here today on that threshold, let us give thanks for what God has done in Christ, what we have seen, what we have heard, and then let us say, yes, to what comes next. Open us, lengthen us, that we may grow and conform ourselves to follow Jesus, to listen to him, and trust in his promise of resurrection. Amen.