Sunday, February 11, 2018

Epiphany Last, 2018: Receive the overshadowing

Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Mountains, clouds, and dazzling light... Today’s gospel story is filled with symbolic language! Let’s take a closer look…

Jesus leads Peter, James and John away from the other disciples, up to “a high mountain” which is biblical language for the place where God is met and heard. Suddenly, their friend and rabbi begins to shine with a dazzling light – biblical language for the presence of God. In that moment the veil between earth and heaven is lifted, and the two most powerful prophets in Jewish history, biblical heroes who were long dead, are suddenly right there for Peter, James, and John to see… and they’re talking with Jesus, like… that’s what dead prophets do, of course!

Excited and a not a little bit confused, Peter suggests they build a memorial to mark this amazing moment, but before he can finish speaking, he and the other disciples are “overshadowed” by a cloud which is biblical language for the formless yet visible presence of the Spirit of God. This is the same overshadowing that happened to Moses on Mt. Sinai when he received the 10 commandments, and it’s the same overshadowing that happened to Mary when she conceived the Son of God in her womb.

When God overshadows us, there is a purpose. The people receive what they need to serve God on behalf of God’s people and God’s plan of redemption.

What the disciples receive in today’s gospel story is a blowing away of their expectations for the Messiah. What they witnessed and experienced on the mountain provided them a new understanding: that Jesus is not just another powerful prophet or Biblical hero. He is so much more somehow (the fullness of their understanding of this will unfold for them over time), and the voice from heaven said they should “listen to him.”

Seeing Jesus glow in that heavenly light and hearing the heavenly voice claim him as Son and Beloved, the disciples came to realize that everything they thought about Jesus, and even their notions of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah as the new David, suddenly seemed so limited, so small.

As Jesus guides them down the mountain to rejoin the others, the disciples are still in that groggy state of mind that happens when your brain is trying to make sense of something it can't. You can almost hear their unspoken thoughts: Did that just happen? Was it a dream? It couldn't have been a dream… can you have a group dream?

Their journey down the mountain marks the beginning of a transformed life for these disciples. The truth that has been conceived in them
is only now beginning to take root and grow, and it will be a life-long journey for them.

They will constantly come up against the limits of their habits and thinking, and each time that happens, Jesus will patiently and lovingly guide them beyond those limits. The rest of their time with Jesus is spent learning, practicing, and nurturing the understanding conceived in them that day on the high mountain.

On this the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Christians around the world also begin our liturgical descent from the mountain, where we witnessed the brilliant Epiphany light of Jesus, the Christ, into the wilderness of Lent where we will commit ourselves to journey together, with Jesus guiding us, beyond whatever limits us, so that we too can serve God on behalf of God’s people and God’s plan of redemption for the whole world.

The disciplines we choose to practice during Lent will enable us to break-ground, you might say… to crack open the soil of our souls so that we can invite God in to work a new thing in us.

But today, on this feast day of the Lord, we collectively receive the overshadowing of God’s spirit and hear again God’s command to “listen” to Jesus, the Beloved who will lead us, again and again, into a transformed life in the world.

Have you ever had the experience of being overshadowed by the Spirit of God? Have you ever seen someone else being overshadowed?

Yesterday, I led a contemplative retreat and I witnessed person after person being overshadowed and transformed by the Spirit of God. It’s an amazing reality and I feel so privileged to be a witness to it.

Each one of these participants had admitted that they felt like God was mostly absent in their lives. One person called it a spiritual drought.

After learning various forms of prayer, like praying with icons, centering prayer, praying through song, lectio divina using poetry, etc. each one of these went off to practice their prayer discipline and returned to the group with tears and joy over-flowing from them as they recounted their experiences of being overshadowed by the Spirit of God.

Each one also knew where this transformation was beginning to lead them. A path had begun to open before them, giving their lives new purpose and energy – on behalf of the people of God and God’s plan of redemption.

That’s what happens when we are overshadowed by the Spirit of God. St. Theresa of Avila put it like this:

"There is a divine world of light
with many suns in
the sky.

I slept with my Lord
one night,

now all that is luminous
I know we
conceived." Source: “Love Poems from God, Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West,” Daniel Ladinsky, Trans., The Penguin Group, NY, 2002, 288.)

We are all co-creators with God of the dream of God for the world. We are bearers of the heavenly light of Christ into the darkness of the world.

As St. Paul said in the epistle to the Corinthians: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

If we close our eyes we can see the dazzling face of Jesus, illumined by the light of heaven, smiling upon us, reaching hands toward us to come to him, to let his light shine in us, so that we can carry that light into the world.

God, who is the source of all love, all life, will give us what we need to serve. On this last Sunday after the Epiphany we take the opportunity to remember and accept that God has chosen us and we open ourselves to the overshadowing God’s Holy Spirit. and the transformation of life and purpose that brings.

Grant us, loving God, that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to serve and changed into his likeness from glory to glory, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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