Last Epiphany February 14, 2010

Exodus 34:29-35                                                                

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2                                                      

Luke 9:28-43

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing [on God’s glory]. — 2 Corinthians 3:12

This is one of the central themes in the New Testament, indeed in Christianity as a religion: that with Jesus Christ no longer is God veiled, a terrible presence before whom we can only cringe in fear, whom we  can only approach indirectly, through observing a code of complex rules and through the rituals of a sacred priesthood. No, our God is the God revealed in Jesus, a human being like ourselves. Jesus who knows our weakness, our doubts, our confusion, our sins. But Jesus who has saved us from ourselves, who loves us and calls us to be with him.

It is a very powerful idea. We make a mistake if we treat it as simply a contrast between Judaism and Christianity. The contrast between the veiled God and the transparent God runs through all religions. Let me read you these words by the most prominent Roman Catholic liturgical scholar in America today, a Jesuit named John Baldovin who teaches at Boston College:

To put it simply (and I hope not over-simply) religious folk can be divided into two basically opposed groups which opt for either “control” or “freedom” as the basis for religious life. What is Christian religious faith about? Is it about bringing basically sinful people into conformity with God’s very demanding will for the world? Such a God is loving to be sure – but Gods love has very definite limits. Or is it about offering people a vision of God’s world, the reign of God as proclaimed by Jesus – a vision which serves more as an invitation than a threat? In other words, are Scripture and Tradition vehicles for limiting and controlling our access to God or are they inspirations of a pattern of relating to God which must be renewed in every age and place and which can only be offered to human beings, never imposed upon them?*

I don’t know about you, but for me the last few Sundays at Holy Cross have been some of the most remarkable in the twelve years I’ve been here. It began with Charles LaFond’s homily three weeks ago in which he likened an epiphany – the name of this season which today brings to a close (the Greek word means “manifestation” or “showing forth”) – to God turning on a light bulb, God saying “yes” to us, God’s people. God, said Charles, is always turning on light bulbs, always saying yes. That’s his nature; he’s that kind of God.

And then two weeks ago we participated in a drama about God’s calling. (And “calling” is another form of light bulb turning on, of God saying yes to us.) God calling the prophet Jeremiah; God calling Jesus; God calling us. We talked about fear – how fear holds us back from responding to God. In many ways, to be honest, we’d rather have a veiled God than a Jesus God. If God is fearsome, we have an excuse for not responding – it’s too hard, it’s too scary, I don’t know enough, I’m not worthy. We saw in the gospel that day how the people in Jesus’s home town turned against him because it was too threatening to think that the home town boy, someone just like them, might be the Messiah, the one to actualize the reign of God in their midst.

And then last week, with the Bishop’s visitation. The message of the gospel was Jesus’s call to us to fish for people, to change human lives – including of course our own. “Put out into the deep,” Jesus calls us. “Do not be afraid.” The Bishop asked us what we’d need to “go fishing.” He asked us what held us back. I had invited him to open up his sermon, asking questions of us, letting us respond. He did, and you did a wonderful job with it. A year ago even, it would have been difficult. There would have been awkward silences. But we’ve come a long way, haven’t we, in putting aside our fear of real participation in worship – as opposed to being spectators of a performance done by others.

Last week we moved the chairs into the open, circular pattern around the Altar and Lectern. We’ll keep them that way during Lent because it will facilitate some Atrium presentations we’ll be doing on some of the Sundays in Lent. I know some of you don’t like this seating arrangement. I still hear people say that they want to look at me, not at each other. But you know, it’s something I think we need to work on. It has to do with what Fr. Baldovin was talking about. We are the people of God – all of us, not just a few ordained folks. We are the celebrants of this Eucharist – not just me, the priest. This Holy Communion is a communion horizontally with one another, all in the great circle around the Table, not just vertically with a veiled God somewhere up in the sky. It’s important that our worship show this, because how we worship shapes how we live.

So now Epiphany ends – this season of marvelous light bulb turnings on, of hearing God say yes to us, of hearing God’s call. And in the gospel story of the Transfiguration, we go back down the mountain to resume our journey to Jerusalem, to the Cross. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is telling, because no sooner do the disciples get back down that they fail in their mission; they’re unable to cast out a demon from a sick child. It was all mountaintop moment for them, no carry through to the challenges of real life.

And what about us? I hope as you reflect on your life this Lent, as you take on disciplines that will help you repent and renew, you will not just work on dieting and exercise and bringing more food for the pantry – good as all those things may be. I hope you will think about your fears. We all have them, the things that hold us back from being part of the dance of God. Give them up, these fears. Take off the veil you’ve put on God. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, found your life on hope and “act with great boldness.” If you do, you will experience the love and power of Jesus Christ – you will be ready for Easter.


* John F. Baldovin, S.J., “The Changing World of Liturgy,” Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2000, Vol. 82, No. 1, p. 67.

0 Responses to “Last Epiphany February 14, 2010”

Comments are currently closed.