Sermon; Epiphany Last 2018; Mark 9:2-9
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Some Protestant denominations refer to this as Transfiguration Sunday. I was talking with a friend about this and the question came up that if the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6, why do we also have, essentially, a celebration of the Transfiguration on this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany?
If you have been paying attention over the past six weeks, you will recall that the two major themes of Epiphany are knowledge and proclamation. In Epiphany we gain knowledge of who Jesus is through the wise men, John the Baptist, Philip, and even demons. That knowledge is then proclaimed, made known, not only here, but in the surrounding towns and villages, as we heard last week.
These twin themes of knowledge and proclamation culminate in the Transfiguration event. Jesus is made known through the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, and he is proclaimed as God's Son by God himself. This event is the perfect end to the season of knowledge and proclamation.
But today I want to deviate from these themes and address a particular and important aspect of this story, and that is the aspect of mystery. Because we may know all there is to know about Jesus or Scripture or the Church, but just because we know it all doesn't mean we know it all.
Mystery has several meanings associated with it, usually along the lines of trying to figure out, or find, a solution to something. Agatha Christie wrote murder mysteries for a living. We watch Columbo, CSI, and Fr. Brown. We play games to determine if it was Col. Mustard in the kitchen with a pipe. Scientists are probing the mysteries of the universe trying to find the answer to life and everything. And when I was a kid, I had to find out who was eating my chocolate Easter bunny without my permission. All mysteries to be solved.
But the mystery of faith is something else entirely. We do not proclaim a faith to be solved, we proclaim a faith to be lived. And it is in the living of our faith that we live into its mystery.
The early Church easily lived into this. Christian doctrine and liturgy were developed with an understanding of the importance of mystery, and they reflect a mystical experience. That mystery is experienced by revelation, such as the event of the Transfiguration that we hear today.
Ignatius said that the words of scripture enacted in the Eucharist contain a mystic significance into which believers are progressively initiated, so that we hear the quietness of Jesus. It is the mystery of the Eucharist, with its symbols, rituals, and words, that help draw us beyond intellectual notions of God and into a mystical union with God. This mystery, or these mystical acts, do not persuade us, as a good argument might, but they act on us and move us into a deeper relation with God.
In short, the experience of God is a mystery. It is a mysterious and mystical event that cannot be explained. And on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, this is exactly what is happening – a mysterious and mystical experience of God that cannot be explained. A mystery not to be solved but to be lived.
Four men ascend the mountain where one of them is miraculously transfigured so that he shown with an other-worldly light and his clothes were more dazzling white than even Tide could get them.
Shortly after Jesus is transfigured, Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets. How they got there and how the disciples identified them is a mystery.
Peter, wanting to do something, suggests building three dwellings, when suddenly a cloud overshadows them and they hear a voice that proclaims Jesus as Son and that they should listen to him. They were overshadowed in the same way that Mary was overshadowed, and in the same way that they would be overshadowed after Jesus' ascension.
These are mysteries of our faith,. The experience of God is a mystery. It is a mysterious and mystical event that cannot be explained. Sort of like what happens in here on a Sunday morning.
It is very hard for us to describe the importance of our liturgy to others; for how do you describe a mystery?
Our liturgy is full of mystery. We can start with the mystery of Scripture which stands as a record of God and humanity trying to connect. As Eucharistic Prayer C says, “Again and again you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law.”
There is the mystery of Christ, fully human and fully divine, who showed us what it means to live in a complete and faithful relationship with God.
There is the mystery of Holy Communion, that great feast which is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This also includes the mystery of bread and wine becoming Body and Blood.
And it includes the mystery of prayer, healing, and community.
In here we are surrounded by mystery.
On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany let us not forget to proclaim the Christ we know, but neither let us forget to live into an unsolvable mystery whose purpose is to reveal God so that we may draw into a closer union with the divine.
And on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, let us remember that the mystery of God is not to be solved, but to be lived.