Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 07, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
So it’s come to this: a sermon based on a “Harry Potter” reference. I promise you, I will take a vacation this year. OK. So near the end of the series, Harry the hero decides to face the principal villain, and he expects that doing so will cost him his life. On his way to face him, Harry uses a magical object called the Resurrection Stone, which is something of a misnomer, since it doesn’t resurrect anyone, but it does remove the veil between the living and the dead, and summon the spirits of his dead parents, and a couple of other loved ones, and they are able to converse, and they encourage him to continue and assure him that they love him, and will be with him to support him, even though he won’t be able to see them then. This is a great scene and it is taken directly from two Christian concepts.
The first one is the Transfiguration, the principal episode in today’s Gospel. In the “Harry Potter” universe, the word is used to describe magically turning one thing into something else, but we use it to describe a supernatural revelation of Jesus’s divinity, a momentary glimpse into a glorious truth and a reward for the faith of Peter, John, and James, imperfect as it was. This incontrovertible proof of Jesus’s divinity implicitly confirmed the truth of all his teachings. The transfiguration marks a turn in the story and in the journeys which comprise it, a turn from Galilee towards Jerusalem, from edification to confrontation, to Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, which he had already predicted to his disciples, and which would accomplish the final defeat of evil. So the Transfiguration points to the present reality of Jesus, and to the key future events of his Resurrection and Ascension. In Luke’s version of those events, each time, two men in white robes appear as companions to Jesus’s perplexed disciples. And of course, it also turns toward the past, as the most prominent prophets of the Hebrew sacred story appear beside Jesus.
Mark and Matthew also include the Transfiguration in their Gospels, but only Luke lets us in on the topic of their conversation. Our imaginations might run wild with speculation about what these three might have discussed, but it should come as no surprise that they are discussing Jesus’s imminent mission to Jerusalem and the divine plan of salvation he was going to accomplish there. Presumably, like Harry Potter’s parents, they were giving him support and encouragement, but I like to imagine they were busting his chops a little, kidding him about how much harder things were in their own days.
This all may sound very otherworldly and arcane, but here’s the thing: each one of us enjoys the same support and encouragement from our sisters and brothers in the faith who have gone ahead of us into heaven. This is the second Christian concept, the Communion of Saints, but we don’t need a magical tchotchke or a mountaintop theophany to enjoy it with certainty. From the moment of our baptism, we enjoy the fellowship of the saints, because we have become members of that Communion ourselves. As we grow in faith as Christians, we grow in confidence, supported in love by the prayers of the saints even in the long stretches when we aren’t thinking about them.
The best opportunity for spiritual growth all year is just around the corner: the season of Lent. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and I urge you all to come to our services, which will be at noon and 7:30 p.m. These services and this season aren’t just about confronting our sins and repenting for them, and they aren’t just about the joyful gift of forgiveness, the powerful, complete relief from our sins that God always makes available to us. They are also about making progress in our spiritual journeys, walking with Jesus to Jerusalem. They are about our growth into the full stature of Christ, growing in our capacity for faith, hope, and charity, springtime for the soul in the midst of the snows of winter.
Surrounded by the communion of saints, we too can confront sin, and it will flee from the divine goodness we each carry and cultivate, and all will be astounded at the greatness of God.