Well, we are celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, the very last Sunday in the season of epiphany. The next liturgical season, the season of Lent, begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Now, many of you know that the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras. And the reason it’s called Fat Tuesday is because on Tuesday, you eat a lot and drink a lot, and you party a lot because the next day, Ash Wednesday, begins this 40-day period of fasting and quiet reflection.
The dates of Transfiguration Sunday and Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday – they're not fixed dates on the calendar. They're dependent on the date of Easter, which as you know, changes every year. I mean, Christmas is always December 25, but the date of Easter changes every year. And the reason for that is that Easter is not based on the Gregorian calendar. Easter is based on the lunar calendar. Easter is always on the Sunday on or after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox.
And I love that so much. I love that the day we celebrate Easter – the rebirth of the light of the world – is based on the movements of the universe and the cosmos.
Now, of course, all of these church dates – no one really knows for sure the day Jesus died and rose from the dead. No one really knows for sure the day Jesus was born. The church came up with these dates back at the Council of Nicea, which was 300 years after Jesus died. So these dates aren't meant to be understood literally, but symbolically.
And I love that the early church fathers chose the date of Christmas around the winter solstice, and how they chose Easter around the time of the spring Solstice. Because those are celebrations of the light.
And that's what we're celebrating today on Transfiguration Sunday – the light. Every single year on Transfiguration Sunday, we get the same two readings from the lectionary, the Old Testament reading of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, and the New Testament reading of Jesus up on the mountain with some of his apostles.
And as we just heard this morning, those two stories are pretty similar. We see that Moses was up a mountain, and his face becomes transparent. He's full of light. And the same thing happens to Jesus. He's up a mountain with some of his apostles. And he too, is transfigured and transformed by the light. And in both stories, we see the presence of God in the light, and we hear God's voice.
Now, the fact that these two stories are so similar is not a coincidence. The people who wrote the Gospels were trying to demonstrate that Jesus was the new Moses, the Messiah that had been promised them in the Old Testament. And just as Moses had led their ancestors from oppression to freedom, they wanted to show that Jesus was the way forward from oppression to freedom.
So again, we're not really to read these two stories as literal historical accounts, but we're we're supposed to really read them symbolically or spiritually. So let's look at the Transfiguration story spiritually. I've told you before that whenever you hear about mountains in the Bible, it symbolizes a place of higher consciousness. Both Moses and Jesus ascended to a place of higher consciousness. It's not a literal mountain top, but a spiritual ascension. And from that place, that higher place of consciousness, they're able to feel God's presence in that light, and to hear God's voice.
Now, Jesus was not the only person ever in history, to experience this light, this oneness, this Transfiguration. We hear in the Hindu scripture –which was written thousands of years before Christianity – of Hindu gurus, Hindu yogi's, ascended masters, who also experienced this oneness with the light. The Hindu word yoga means union with God. I know today, Yoga has become more a form of exercise in the Western world, but it's an ancient Hindu tradition of becoming united, one with God.
Then we also hear in Buddhism, that Buddha was underneath the Bodhi tree. And during his time of meditation under the Bodhi tree, he too was transfigured and transformed in the light. It was said he became enlightened.
This Transfiguration, this union with God, this oneness with the light is not just for special people, like Hindu gurus, and Moses and Jesus and Buddha, Jesus came to tell us that we too, could experience this oneness for ourselves. And that's why he said things like you are the light of the world. And he said, The kingdom of heaven is within you. And he said, all of the things that I've done, you can do. Jesus came to show us the way to this oneness, this light within us.
And he said, if you follow this way, you too will experience this light. And what was the way? Well, it's the way of forgiveness. It's the way of service. It's the way of unconditional love. And if people haven't experienced the oneness with the light, it's because they're not willing to do the work it takes to love how Jesus loved, to forgive how Jesus forgave, to serve how Jesus served. But Jesus says, if you follow this way of life, you too will experience this oneness.
And Jesus also gave us the instructions for how to pray. He said, When you pray, shut the door, go into your inner room, the secret dwelling place of the Most High, and there you will be rewarded.
Shut the door, means to close your eyes. He says, “Go into your inner dwelling place.” That's where the kingdom of God is. And if you can enter into that kingdom, you will be rewarded.
Jesus would also say in the Scriptures, “If thine eye, be single, thy entire body will be filled with light.” If thine eye be single, shut your two eyes, your physical eyes, focus on that third eye, that Divine Eye which our eastern brothers and sisters speak of. Put your focus there. If you do, Jesus says your entire body will be filled with light.
In other words, stop seeing things with worldly eyes, enter into the kingdom of God within you and start putting your focus on the divine. See people in situations the way God sees them.
We hear in today's Gospel reading that Peter, who's up on the mountain with Jesus says, ‘Jesus, this was such a wonderful experience. Let's build temples up here. Let's build a temple for you. And for Moses and Elijah.’ And Jesus says, ‘No, we've got to go down the mountain. We've experienced the light now we have to bring it to the people.’ And Jesus says to him, and to the apostles there. ‘Don't tell anyone what happened up here.’
Do you understand? Jesus did not want to be worshipped. He did not want temples built to him. He wanted us to follow His way of life, to become the light and to share it with people.
Unfortunately, for more than 2,000 years now, Christianity has been more about building temples, than being temples. We are to become temples of the Christ light and bring that to the world. But instead Christianity has been about building temples to Jesus.
And I understand. It's so much easier to worship the guy who became enlightened than to seek enlightenment for ourselves. It's much easier for us to build temples and to worship the guy who loved unconditionally, rather than to love unconditionally, ourselves.
The purpose of the season of Lent, for those 40 days, we are to enter into the kingdom of God within us and to connect with that light, so that we can be the Temple of God's light, and then bring it out into the world, this World of Darkness, which needs our light so badly right now.
Now, the 20th century Christian mystic, whose name was Thomas Merton, he was a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton said this, about meditation and prayer. He said, “Meditation is not an intellectual effort to master certain ideas about God. Meditation is prayer of the heart. It's the active effort we make to keep our hearts opened, so that we may be enlightened by God, and filled with the realization of our true relationship with God. Hence, the aim of meditation and prayer in the Christian faith is not to achieve scientific knowledge of God, but to know that God's own nature has been given to us by God as our true nature.”
God's own nature is our true nature. That's what Jesus was trying to tell us. The light is within you, the Kingdom of God is within you. God's DNA is within you. So the transfiguration story isn't just about Jesus becoming one with the One, capital O. It's about us becoming one with the one.
Jesus said, “I am the Father are One, you are in me, I am in you,” meaning we are all one with this one, true light.
Now, this process of oneness with God, doesn't happen overnight. Moses was up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 Nights. Jesus was out in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. Buddha was underneath that tree for seven weeks, 49 days. Now, again, these are all symbolic numbers.
I've shared with you before about the symbolism of the numbers seven and 40. But what Scripture is trying to tell us is that this is a process. I know sometimes people say to me, “PastorSal, I tried to meditate every day, but I guess I'm just not the meditative type of person because my mind just keeps going and I just can't do it.”
Okay. It's a process. It doesn't happen overnight. But I promise you, if you make the time every day, to enter into the kingdom within you, to shut the door, you too will be rewarded. You will feel more and more of that light, that peace.
Yes, we are living in a time of darkness. And we're living at a time of war. But within us resides a deep peace. The more people on the planet who spend time each day getting in touch with that light and getting in touch with that peace, the more we will have light and peace in the world.
So the season of Lent is a time for us to make the effort each day to connect with that peace and that light. So in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday this week, I hope you will either begin or strengthen your daily prayer practice. Find time each day to be still and know that God's presence and light is within you. For as Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
May you shine that light for all the world to see.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Marcus Borg
The season of Epiphany comes to a close today. This season immediately precedes the season of Lent. The Epiphany season both begins and ends with stories from the Gospels in which we hear the Voice of God. On the first Sunday in Epiphany, we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus, with its climax in the Voice of God speaking to Jesus, "You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased." And then, today, on the last Sunday in Epiphany, we hear the Transfiguration story in which Jesus and the inner core of his disciples ascend to a high mountain. And this time, it is the disciples who hear the Voice of God. The Voice of God says this time, "This is my beloved son. Listen to him." The disciples, in a way, represent us in that passage. "Listen to him." Listen to Jesus. This phenomenon of the Divine Voice actually has a name in the Jewish tradition. The Hebrew phrase that names this Divine Voice is bat cole. Translated into English, bat cole means "the daughter of a sound." The Voice of God, the Divine Voice, is the daughter of a sound. And immediately after the Transfiguration story -- immediately after that Voice has said, "Listen to him” -- we get the story of Jesus' final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The season of Lent is about listening to Jesus as he journeys from Galilee to Jerusalem. On that journey Jesus speaks about the Way -- the path of following him. To listen to Jesus means to follow him on that path that leads to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the place of death and resurrection, the place of endings and beginnings, of endings and new life, the place where what we feared was the place of death becomes the place of new life. Listening to Jesus means embarking on that journey, and it is the journey at the very center of the Christian life.
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