February 20, 2011

God in Man made Manifest VI

This week we'll look at the end of Hymn 135 (Episcopal Hymnal 1980). The final verse in Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn is actually written by F. Bland Tucker. We, literally, reach the summit of “God in man made manifest.” We have journeyed from the infant worshipped by the ‘sages from afar’ in ‘Thy birth at Bethlehem,’ to the One who started his ministry by ‘changing water into wine’ and ‘making whole palsied limbs and fainting souls.’ The verses from the Lutheran hymn version reminded us of the time when ‘Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee, Christ will then like lightning shine.’ Because of that we are to ‘see Thee, Lord, mirrored in Thy holy Word;’ and ‘we imitate Thee now.’ This last verse gives me chills because it sums up the season of Lent that we’ll be entering in just a couple of weeks.

Manifest on mountain height,
shining in resplendent light
where disciples filled with awe
Thy transfigured glory saw.
When from there thou leddest them
Steadfast to Jerusalem.
Cross and Easter Day attest
God in man made manifest.

With the Peter, James, and John we stand with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. The scene is recorded in 3 of the 4 Gospels, so it was obviously very important to the Church. (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) In all three Gospels, this happens six days after Jesus asks his disciples “who do men say I am” and more importantly “who do you say I am?” Peter’s response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” was an important turning point for the disciples because Jesus immediately starts to explain that “he will suffer many things from the elders and chief priests…and be killed, and on the third day rise.”

Despite Peter’s immediate, heated response, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” and Jesus’ rebuke, Peter is one of the three who accompany their Master onto the mountain. There they see him “transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” Not only that, “Moses and Elijah [were] talking with him.” The figures from the Old Testament that represent the Law and Prophets come to Jesus to “talk about his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Peter’s impetuous response to seeing this wonder and glory is to suggest building “booths…one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Instead of a building project, the trio is “overshadowed by a cloud, then a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.’” They fall to their faces and find themselves alone with Jesus who “commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.’”

Peter, James, and John had a special experience. You would think that would change them permanently and make them confident, holy, and brave. We know though, that when push came to shove, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied he knew the Lord. That should be heartening to us who struggle daily to be ‘good Christians,’ but fall short.

Jesus knew the road he must travel and led the disciples “steadfast to Jerusalem.” In the Holy City, Jesus knew he would confront the nation’s religious and secular rulers. He knew that they would reject his message and that he would die. However, the ultimate triumph would be the Resurrection. Jesus tells Peter, James, and John to “tell no one…until the Son of man is raised from the dead.” They were probably confused about that statement. In the Gospel of Mark, “they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.” (Mark 9:10) It was not until they saw the empty tomb that Peter and John began to understand that “God in man [was] made manifest.”

Sometimes we have ‘mountaintop experiences.’ A special service at church, a blessed time with family and friends, the return to health after a heart attack or other sickness, can all be times we feel we have encountered God very closely. Like Peter we want to stay in that special place, but we have to return to the day-to-day living. Even though for a while we are changed, we usually slip back into the old routines. How can we maintain the new sense of the closeness of God? It can help to establish a routine of prayer time to draw close, again, to the Holy One who calls us Beloved. Journaling, meditation, music are other ways to maintain a relationship with God. You probably have your own.

March 9 is the beginning of Lent. It’s not too early to start thinking about what your Lenten discipline will be. On this blog, I’ll be sharing thoughts from the Walk Through Lent Study I’m presenting at my church this year. There are also many online Lenten devotions, some of which will come daily to your inbox. One is Episcopal Relief and Development . A quick web search will help you connect with other resources, too.

Next week, I will have a special book review to share. I recently read Grasp, Making Sense of Science and Spirituality by Fr. Jim Trainor. He looks at how science and religion really are not at odds with one another from his unique perspective as a physicist and ordained priest. The study guide in Trainor’s book might just be another option for a Lenten study.

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