Feast of the Transfiguration
One Christmas, rather than giving individual presents to members of my family, my aunt gave my family several posters to hang in our basement room. That fall we had built a very 1960’s “rec room” where my siblings and I could invite our friends and not have to worry about either noise or mess and my parents could then reclaim the living room as their space. So, my aunt decided to help us decorate the space, and hence the posters that Christmas as her gift to all of us.
There were several posters, but the one I remember best was of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. I remember it, not because even then I was a budding theologian, but because I found it so curious. Created in the early years of the Sixteenth Century, Michelangelo’s Moses was regarded by the artist himself as his most lifelike creation. Once finished he is reputed to have struck the statue on the knee with his hammer and exclaimed Now, speak! To this day you can see a chip in the marble on Moses’ knee where Michelangelo’s hammer is said to have hit.
But that’s not what I found so curious about this image. It wasn’t the chip in the marble. It wasn’t the power and force of the figure. It wasn’t the lifelike quality of the statue. No, none of these drew my attention. What drew my attention, and what I found so curious, and what I did not understand until many years later, and you may know this, but what drew my attention is that Moses had grown horns! Yes, there are two stubby horns emerging out of Moses’ head like horns emerging out of the head of a maturing goat!
Growing up as I did in the 1960’s, my world view was pretty consistent. What I saw on TV, as I sat cross-legged in the Davin School gym as each Apollo mission took off into outer space, or splashed down after a successful mission was the same as I saw each Sunday, gazing up at the stained glass window over the altar at St. Mary’s Church. There was Jesus, blasting off into heaven, vapour trails around his ankles and awestruck or bewildered disciples kneeling, watching in amazement as this first century space mission took off into orbit. It all made perfect sense to me at the time, and I must confess, that is the image of the Ascension that first comes to mind as I ponder the mystery of the feast each year.
But we need to remind ourselves, the Ascension is not rocket science. Jesus is not some first century astronaut. We’re not looking at a space mission or vapour trails. The disciples are not the earth bound mission control team of NASSA. The Ascension is much more than that, because the Ascension as we see it in stained glass is not about some exploration of limitless space, but the reality of the limits of language.
What the disciples experienced that day, was so profound, that language and art have failed over time to convey the depths of the reality. When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Even Paul struggles with how to convey the mystery of the Ascension when he says simply God raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.
Today is Easter Day; the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Today is a day for rejoicing. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Although we’ve had to wear masks for much of the time, this has been a wonderful Holy Week. But during the week, my mind went back to a very special Holy Week I had, many years ago, when I was rector of a parish in England. What made it especially memorable was that I had invited a friend of mine to come and stay with me for the week. Richard and I used to teach together, and it was great having him to stay for Holy Week and Easter. But Richard was not a person of faith. It was a very strange experience to be immersed in all the preparations and liturgies of Holy Week, and then to go home to someone who wasn’t really very interested. Perhaps some of you know that experience, with perhaps a spouse, a child or close friend. In fact, quite a lot of my friends don’t believe in God, and I sometimes feel a bit of a failure: these friends who know me so well – so why don’t they believe? I can’t be a very effective evangelist, and I’m a priest as well!
In a few moments, when our attention shifts to the altar, we will sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”[i] God’s holy, holy, holiness is invisible, transcendent, infinitely beyond our capacity to apprehend. But then there is God’s glory. God’s glory teems through creation, from the tiniest of creatures to the greatness of the mountains, in color and scent, in size and texture, in harmony, in the whistling wind, and in the light of day and stars at night. Traces of God’s glory appear to us in beauty so magnificent. Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13thcentury German mystic, said “[God’s] glory pours into my soul like sunlight against gold.” The Jesuit priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, said of God’s glory:
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…”[ii]
It is easy to get lost these days, and in many ways all of us are lost. We are lost in fear, worry, concern, and anxiety. We are lost in sorry, sadness, and anger. We are afraid of the future and worried about the present. We are concerned about those we love, and anxious about ourselves.
All of these are normal and natural feelings, and I do not for a minute want to suggest that there is something wrong with you because you feel one or other, or all, or more of these things. Finding ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic after more than two years, watching the news from Buffalo, and Uvalde, and seeing our leaders incapable of doing anything that looks remotely like gun reform legislation is enough to make anyone’s stomach clench in knots in grief, pain, anger, and sadness. Seeing the images from Ukraine or the effects of the climate emergency overwhelm us with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
All of us no doubt, are actually sadder, angrier, and feel more helpless than we often care to admit. I know I do. That is the reality of life at the moment and the disorientation of this season is profound.
There is a phrase that appears twice in today’s lesson from the Letter to the Ephesians that immediately grabs my attention. We read, as I said, not once, but twice the praise of his glory. On the first occasion we hear so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. A few verses later we read this [being marked by the Holy Spirit] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people to the praise of his glory.
It is this image of living for the praise of God’s glory that attracts me, and it is what, I think we hint at, when we say in our Rule that God chooses us from varied places backgrounds to become a company of friends, spending our whole life abiding in him and giving ourselves up to the attraction of his glory.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 11: 1 – 18
Revelation 21: 1 – 6
John 13: 31 – 35
There’s that word. I wonder if you noticed it this time. It’s not a very big word. In fact, it’s just three letters long. It’s a pretty common word. We use it a lot. But, John doesn’t. At least not in this context. And when he does, it’s huge! Cosmic events are unleashed when Jesus utters one, tiny, common word. Now. Now. Now.
When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Jesus has used this word in John’s gospel once before. He used it in the previous chapter, just after his encounter with the Greeks.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 
In response to their request we wish to see Jesus, he says much the same as he does in today’s gospel.
‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’
Most people will say that they remember exactly where they were and whom they were with at the time of an epic historical event, such as a tragedy or something shocking and unbelievable. Usually it is when the life of the world is altered in a split second, leaving no one unchanged. My mother would tell the story of how, as a young teenager, she was at Junior All-County Band clinic when she and the other students found out that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. In my own lifetime, the Challenger disaster and of course 9/11 are etched in my mind in vivid detail. Not only was 9/11 shocking, but it invoked a great deal of fear that shook the world. No one was the same after that day and we all recalled our stories to each other as we tried to process our emotions and begin the very long journey to healing.
I imagine that this is probably the experience of the shepherds in our gospel lesson from Luke this morning. This particular evening was just another speck in the sea of time, poised to be like all the others, keeping watch over the sheep in their care. These men were country dwellers who lived on the margins of society. To the temple leaders and social elite, they were among the dregs of society, unclean due to the nature of their profession. Because their jobs allowed them little time away, they were unable to make the appropriate temple sacrifices with any kind of regularity. They were literal outcasts because they tended the flocks in the rural regions on the perimeter of town. Yet, it was their job to see to the well-being of sheep that were most likely to be presented in the temple for sacrifice by people who could afford it.
1 Peter 4:7-11
It’s oftentimes quite fascinating to read the scriptures forensically, that is to search the scriptures like a good detective. If what we’re being presented in a scriptural passage is the answer to a question, or a solution to a problem, or the right way to live and act, what’s the presenting issue? Why does this need to be said, whatever we’re being told? So in the First Letter of Peter – our first lesson today – why are we being told what we are being told? If this is the solution, what’s been the problem? What’s the “back story”?
- “Maintain constant love for one another…” (What’s that about? There’s been a breakdown in love. Love has been patchy, inconsistent, unpredictable.)
- “Love covers a multitude of sins…” (“Sins,” plural. The people around you have been disappointing and disingenuous… repeatedly, which has elicited disdain, not love.)
- “Be hospitable to one another…” (To be hospitable is to be welcoming and generous to others… especially those whom you otherwise find irritating and off-putting. Have space in your heart and space in your home for those whom you could easily distance. Be hospitable.)
- Don’t be “complaining.” (The issue here is not about expressing a complaint, a dissatisfaction, a disagreement. No, the problem is not about a complaint. The issue here is about being a complainer. Having a predisposition that someone or something is always wrong and should be different. The issue here is about a state of being: being a complainer.)
- We’re to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (So what’s that about?) Peter writes we are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serving one another with whatever gift each of you has received…” (So each of us is gifted, but not gifted in the same ways. Our gifts are not our possessions. Our individual gifts have been temporarily entrusted to us. We are to be “stewards” of our gifts, not possessors. If we don’t learn about our temporary stewardship of our gifts earlier in life, we will learn later in life… because our gifts are fleeting. Our gifts diminish and then go away.) We’re to be temporary “stewards” of the gifts we’ve received from God. And we’re to use our God-given gifts not to lord over one another but to “serve” one another.
Feast of St. John Chrysostom
In 1940, Fr. Gregory Petrov, a Russian Orthodox priest, died in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Among his possessions was found a copy of a hymn entitled “Glory to God for All Things.” It is uncertain whether Petrov composed the hymn, but it is clear that it was written during the period of intense, coordinated persecution of the Church in Russia begun under Lenin. The systematic attempt to annihilate religious identity in Russia continued in waves of varying intensity until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The hymn so cherished by Petrov was copied and distributed secretly, sung and recited in clandestine gatherings of the faithful during those years, as Christians in the millions were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, sent to mental hospitals, barred from worshipping, praying, training new clergy or building churches. The hymn is now easy to find in English translation. I discovered it a few years ago, and my gratitude to God is always kindled anew when I return to its litanies of undaunted thanksgiving: