The Transfiguration closes the season after the Epiphany, and bookends, in language and details, Jesus’s baptism, which opened it. Jesus ascends—from the water at his baptism, and up a mountain now. A voice recognizes him as “my Son, the Beloved.” But between the two events, Jesus has invited people to follow him; he has called his disciples to be with him and to share in his ministry.
These disciples have had glimpses that Jesus is more than just a man. But here, glimpses give way to full vision. The three disciples see Jesus transfigured, his clothes becoming “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” They are terrified. Peter doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on. They see Jesus, their teacher, their friend, their Messiah—and they see him changed.
But we might ask, “who was changed? Who was transfigured?” Was Jesus changed—or were the disciples? Was it, perhaps, that the eyes of the disciples were opened so that they could see the reality behind the reality?
Today we celebrate the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, or Candlemas. It has a particular resonance for me, because Candlemas was the last Sunday that I spent in my parish in England before coming to the United States. I remember the very mixed feelings I had during that final service. On the one hand looking back with thanksgiving and celebration, but on the other, looking forward with a certain degree of trepidation.
And I think the feast of Candlemas has a similar liturgical function in the Christian year. On the one hand, we look back on this day, to the forty days of light and rejoicing which we have been celebrating during Christmas and Epiphany. But on the other hand, we are forced to look forward with some trepidation, to anticipate the events of Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, his passion and his death.
This bitter-sweet character is articulated by Simeon, on the day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple to be presented to the Lord. As he takes the child into his arms, he utters that great peon of praise, ‘Lord you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see.’ But then, with prophetic insight, he looks forward to what is yet to come, and says to Mary, ‘This child is destined to be a sign which many will reject, and you too shall be pierced to the heart.’
One of the appealing characteristics of Father Benson, but also surely one of the more baffling for many, perhaps also for you, was his grasp of a heavenly reality, in the midst of a worldly existence. We know the famous story of the old woman, when asked is she could understand his preaching responded, that gentleman just opens heaven to me, and I can look right in.
Over and again, Father Benson calls us to an awareness of this heavenly reality. He writes, [do] I realize to myself that as I pray, I am truly in heaven, and that I ought to be experiencing the joys of heaven? If we would but look to heaven with more consciousness of present joy therein, we should find its power to set us free from earthly difficulty.
It is this consciousness of the present joy of heaven that was a motivating factor in much of his life. Reading Philippians, as we do today, he would have been perfectly comfortable with the notion that our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Luke 6: 39 – 42
There’s a lot going on in this sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel. It begins with two different teachings about the sabbath. It includes the calling, and naming of the twelve apostles. We hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, here given as a Sermon on the Plain, rather than Matthew’s more popular Sermon on the Mount. And then it ends with a collection of teachings, or sayings, perhaps gathered from a variety of occasions, and put together by Luke, as a sort of catalogue of teachings.
What we have this morning are three of those teachings lumped together. One about the blind leading the blind; another about a disciple and their teacher; and the third about the speck and the log.
The short story writer Flannery O’Connor enjoyed a loyal but circumscribed following of readers during her lifetime. The life and career of this brilliant young woman, a devout Roman Catholic who spent much of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia, ended in 1964 when she was just 39 years old. Since then, her work has increasingly gained the literary recognition it deserves. Her stories weave together penetrating insight, acerbic humor, irony, and subtle allegory. Unlikely prophets abound and God’s grace lurks in absurd encounters.They are stories that deliver a visceral shock of self-knowledge for the reader with “eyes to see and ears to hear.” All of this of course, should sound like familiar terrain to us followers of a certain story-teller from ancient Galilee. In a talk given to a group of young writers, O’Connor offered the following words about the art of short story writing:
When you write, your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see, and they will not be a substitute for seeing. For the writer of fiction, everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it. It involves judgment. Judgment is something that begins in the act of vision, and when it does not, or when it becomes separated from vision, then a confusion exists in the mind which transfers itself to the story.[i]