Transfiguration

Seeing His Glory

 

(From a funeral homily preached today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration)

Martin, after death, is not closer to the Lord than he was before ~ even though he, himself, may now feel closer. This is at least in part because he now sees the Lord in a way that we do not. Yet, after Baptism, God is in us, and we are in him ~ always. And then, at death, this bud of truth comes to full flower. For, through death, our departed loved ones come to experience the Lord’s nearness in an especially profound way… and, in a way they have never really glimpsed before. We can imagine their joy at this moment. Suddenly, they are overcome by that same sense of startling nearness that our ancestor Jacob had, upon waking from his famous dream. “Surely,” he exclaimed, “the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!” And then he said, “how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” On Friday, July 26, this may have been Martin’s sudden and blessed realization.

Martin saw himself, in his life and work as a physician, as a tool in God’s hands. Martin’s self-perception about his vocation fits well with themes in John‘s Gospel. John boldly tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The disciples knew from their own experience the power of these words, as this feast day of Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds us. Their experience was confirmed again at the Last Supper, when Jesus told them how he was the way, and the truth, and the life.

Jesus then said this: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… [And] very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…”

That Martin perceived his vocation as a physician to be a form of ministry fits well with Jesus’ words in John. For as the Word became flesh in Jesus, so too —through his gift of himself to us— the Word continues to become flesh in us. The Word becomes flesh in our lives and work, as well as in our relationships with each other. As this happens, the Word takes what at first may seem frail and weak, and builds it up into an expression of God’s own shining glory.

In this moment, Martin now knows these things better than we do. He knows how Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. And Martin now sees, in a way that we cannot, how Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and the one who makes all things new. As the Lord attests through the words of Revelation, the dwelling place of God is now among people ~ even among those who do not readily perceive God’s nearness to us. We can journey forward, believing that —for God’s faithful people— life is changed, not ended. We are God’s faithful people. And, just like Martin, our lives have been changed by God’s Holy Spirit. Having been changed, we, too, are now ready to see his glory, and enter into eternity.

For Jesus says to us, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

 

The image above is of James Tissot’s painting, Jesus Goes Up Alone Onto a Mountain to Pray. This post is based on my homily for the funeral of Martin Landis, which can be accessed by clicking here.  Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.

Beauty in Parallel

golden_gate_bridge_pillar-smaller-copy

Perhaps the only thing more memorable than driving over the Golden Gate Bridge may be to pass under it on an ocean-going ship. I was lucky enough to have that experience five times before I was a teenager.

Many of us assume the name for this bridge is related to its warm color. But the name comes from the ocean straight over which it stands, though it does not derive from the Gold Rush. Rather than mimicking gold, the bridge’s official color—“International Orange”—was chosen to contrast with fog. A story is told about when that color was first applied. Painters dabbed splotches of it on the heads of curious seagulls. Pretty soon, Bay Area birdwatchers reported a new bird species, which was called the California Red-Headed seagull!

Until 1964, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest main span in the world. Yet, its basic design isn’t unique. We know this from other suspension bridges, which are found all over the world. Bridges of this kind have two main towers, steadied in place by their suspension cables, which are anchored in the ground. From their anchor points, these substantial cables ascend to the top of the towers, and then gently descend again to the center of the bridge. From that low point, they again soar up, to the top of the opposite tower. The slightly arched roadway across is literally suspended from these main cables, by small support cables that hang from them. Here, in the beauty of this simple design, we find a helpful spiritual and liturgical metaphor.

Reflect for a moment about two significant Sundays in the church year. One is the last Sunday after Epiphany, or Transfiguration Sunday, and the other is Easter Day. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent, and Easter Day is the first Sunday after Lent. Imagine these two Sundays on the Church calendar as being like the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Transfiguration Sunday, coming just before Lent, is like the south tower of the Golden Gate bridge, on the urban, San Francisco, side of the straight. And, Easter Sunday is like the north tower of that bridge, on the less familiar and historically rural side of that navigational channel. The season of Lent stretches between these two Sundays like the main span of a bridge. Here is the crucial part ~ every year we need to make this liturgical crossing. And, like the great towers of a bridge, Transfiguration Sunday and Easter Sunday uphold us all the way across our Lenten journey.

 

This posting is based on my homily for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which explores the parallel between the revelation of glory that we see in the Transfiguration, and the glory we see in the Resurrection (click here for a link to it).