Glory. I am supposed to tell you about the Glory of the Lord. In the lesson from St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus' face changed while praying on the mountain and his clothes became dazzling white and I am supposed to tell you about the Glory of the Lord that Peter and John and James were witness to on that day.
The Glory is such an odd idea in the Christian tradition. I have discovered that there are two kinds of preachers. There are the kind of preachers who love the word 'Glory' and use it every opportunity they can. 'Glory' ends up being used in every sentence and as different parts of speech and on the rare occasion even as a form of punctuation.
And then there is the second kind of preacher. I am the second kind. If I saw the Glory of the Lord coming down the street towards me, I might be tempted to cross over so as to not get too close.
Now, please don't misunderstand, I am not opposed to the Transfiguration. But unlike the other major events in the life of Jesus, I find it hard to know where to start. And I guess I am not alone.
A good dictionary definition of glory will tell you that glory always involves great honor and praise. Radiant beauty and splendor and lights and halos are often used in trying to describe and define glory.
So, maybe it is hard to speak of the Glory of the Lord because it seems so removed from our world, our present moment. Ours is an anxious age, not a glorious one.
Maybe that is why we speak so much more of the Incarnation, the Christ who came into our midst, into our condition, into our human form. While we do confess that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, it might be that we see the Incarnation as Jesus' human face and the Transfiguration as the divine face of the Christ. We might confess that the divine face of Jesus is a great beauty, but so great a beauty that we turn away, instead of gazing upon it.
This might strike us as an inappropriate Gospel lesson in a world where there is still pain and sickness and war and economic collapse and places where the Glory of the Lord seems not to be a hopeful vision but instead a mocking dream. Would we be accused of being insensitive to speak of a dazzling, glorious Christ while so much of the world limps along at best?
This Gospel lesson starts like so many other lessons from the Gospels--it starts in the middle of something. Jesus has been telling his disciples about the kind of Messiah that he is. Jesus tells them he will suffer, that he will be rejected, and that if they plan to continue to follow, then the future will involve taking up crosses and laying down their own lives, for the life of the Christ. Somewhere in the midst of all that is the Kingdom of God.
The Transfiguration--this moment of glory and light and a glimpsing of the ancestors, of Moses and Elijah, this moment of transcendence and the future glory breaking in--takes place in front of the most ordinary of people--Peter, John and James. Thank God for their presence. They give me hope that the Transfiguration can mean something for us now, something vital and life-giving now.
What is the reaction of these three disciples to the Glory of the Lord? They say the wrong thing and they are even unaware of what they are saying. Maybe they were desperate to fill up the moment with words--with any words. Holy moments can do that to us. Now words can bring healing, and the right words at the right time can bear holiness and light and life. But we also know that words said quickly and too easily can distract us and allow us to avoid whatever it is we might feel if the words were withheld.
Maybe the Glory of God's presence is more present in our ordinary lives than we would first realize and we use words to try to hold back the presence. 'Let us make three dwellings....' we utter, so we can avoid what it is we have just seen.
So, the disciples are told to hush by a cloud or actually by a voice that came from a cloud. We believe it to be God's voice for the voice tells the disciples to listen to Jesus, the Son. Surely it is God speaking.
Then, nothing. The disciples say nothing more. Jesus also says nothing. They are now alone with him--no more ancestors, no more dazzling clothes and bright faces. And without making any overt covenants with one another, they leave the mountain with plans to tell no one what they had seen.
We say this is the Good News for today. And it is. Sometimes the Good News of Jesus compels us to speak, to proclaim, to become evangelists. And sometimes the Good News takes the words from our lips and strikes us dumb and lets us know some moments are holier than words can describe.
It is an ancient Christian practice to read the story of the Transfiguration as the gospel for the second Sunday in Lent. This might strike us as an odd turn for this season, to see glory break in while we are still fasting and foregoing, remaining steadfast in penitential prayer. For me, reading this lesson now reminds us how close we always are to God's glory.
Wherever we find ourselves--maybe terrified, maybe saying the wrong thing or preparing ourselves to say the wrong thing or praying that no one will say the wrong thing--in those places we have the necessary ingredients for Christ's Glory to be seen and to transfigure the time. Then we get to glimpse the Glory of the Christ in our ordinary time.
The Transfiguration reminds us that the present moment is not the whole story. We believe pain can be transformed. We believe a simple meal at an altar carries the mystery of the One Transfigured. And we believe we can see the Glory, too.
Where is it? It is in the world that God has made and it has been placed in us. According to Frederick Dale Bruner, "The purpose of our lives is to remove the veil from the Father's face, and to display something of God's glory to the world. It should no longer be necessary to ask the purpose of life. The purpose of life is the glory of God."
It is with the family that sits with a mother as she prepares to die. When death will come to her, they do not know; but as they sit and as they wait, some moments become more than the sum of the parts. They have come home and home is no longer a place filled with ordinary things, but instead a place filled with sacramental things--the coffee and the oatmeal becoming holy objects. And they know she will die and she will be changed and she will understand the Glory of the Lord in a new way.
It is with the mother who has loved her son who lives with schizophrenia. They all did the best they could, and she holds a hand-made Mother's Day card from him that thanks her for being such a good friend. And she tells you about the card as she laughs into tears. She has been transformed. The mother has become the friend. The son, who was lost, has been found and is not cured but is healed. And it is enough.
As long as ordinary people continue to do ordinary things, the Christ will be present as well. As long as birth and death and hope and despair and courage and fear and faith are numbered among our belongings, then the Glory of the Lord will never leave us.
In C.S. Lewis' sermon The Weight of Glory, he suggests there are no ordinary people. Rather, he says, "It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors and everlasting splendours." In the midst of Christian neighbors, Lewis goes on to say, we move among those who bear the mark of the Christ, "the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, [who] is truly hidden [in them]."
And while I doubt that a cloud will come up from behind and tell you to hush and listen to the Christ, know that there are consecrated moments in all our days that no words can describe. But we are a people made for words, aren't we?
As an Episcopal priest, I work with a book of prayer, a book filled with words. For me, the two holiest places in my life have always been churches and libraries. Both places are filled with words.
But sometimes the words, even the best words, will fail to describe what the Christ does in our midst. So try to hold the words at bay as best you can. And if you can't, then try to limit the words. And if you can't, then say this word--say 'Glory.' AMEN.
Let us pray. O God, this glory is always to have mercy. Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns one God forever and ever. Amen.