Today’s readings are all about one thing: encountering God. Moses encounters God and does some serious dermatologic damage to his face and has to wear a veil to hide his shiny visage. The Psalmist writes about how God speaks to Moses and Aaron out of the pillar of cloud and they fall down before his footstool. Paul writes to the troubled, divisive congregation at Corinth about Moses and Jesus and their encounters with God. Then we get the blinding story of Jesus on the mountaintop, meeting up with Elijah and Moses, followed by the booming voice of God proclaiming: “This is my Son, my Chosen: Listen to him!” (I noticed that our text has a rare exclamation point after “listen to him” - I think God is yelling here.)
I’d like to tell you all about my encounter with God. Our family was on a long road trip one summer and we’d made our way to Yellowstone. We had read that there was phenomenal wildlife viewing in the Lamar Valley so we got up very early, grabbed some coffee and sleepily made our way toward the Valley. We drove along, not paying much attention to anything when Kevin rounded a curve and right there in the road was a bison the size of our car. Kevin slammed on the brakes, we all yelled, then we sat, staring at this huge animal exhaling steam as it slowly walked off the road. Phew - we were all beside ourselves! We knew we were in a wild place!
Now we were awake! We drove on, filled with the wonder of this place. There was a good pull off area as we came within view of the valley so we stopped, got out of the car and just sat in solitude looking at this stunning place in the stillness of the morning. Suddenly the sun broke through the thin clouds and that God thing happened: the rays of the sun were clearly defined, shedding light on the whole valley. Unconsciously, I began to sing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below…” We were encountering God. I will never forget that morning.
Now, if we’d been zooming down the freeway, listening to the radio, squinting at our various devices, we could have come upon the exact same tableau and maybe commented that it was pretty but never noticed God throwing down an amazing scene. Instead, we were awakened by that massive bison, we stopped the car and got out, we reveled in the solitude and silence. THEN, we noticed God.
Encounters with God. That day, when I sensed God, I began inadvertently, to pray, to praise God. Jesus has escaped the crowds to get some quiet time. He is praying when he encounters not just God but Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop. We make room for God when we are still, when we are quiet, when we pray.
Our encounter with God was all about the bright light streaming down from heaven into the beautiful valley. The light that engulfed Jesus on the mountaintop is known to Orthodox Christians as “Tabor Light”. It is this same light that transfigured Moses, so that he had to wear a veil. It is this light which blinded Paul on his way to Damascus. One translation says the light is like that of a lightening strike.
Today is the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. From Christmas to Lent, the gospel readings have been revealing the majesty of Jesus to us. A bright star lights the way to Jesus for the Magi. At his baptism, his aura amazes John the Baptist. Jesus reveals his majesty when he declares in his hometown that his mission is to help the weak and vulnerable, not the rich and the mighty, thus enraging his neighbors.
Now comes the Transfiguration. When the brilliant light of God falls on Jesus, revealing him chatting with Moses and Elijah, his disciples are overwhelmed. Peter wants the moment to last but Jesus reminds him that their work is down the mountain where everyone waits on them.
I wonder if even Jesus has learned at the Transfiguration that there is more in him than he thought. When I read this story I always relate to the disciples but what must it have been like for Jesus to encounter Jewish saints and to hear his Father’s voice endorsing his mission?
What was it like to be in the very presence of God? In the time of Moses, the presence of God was so powerful that Moses had to cover his face with a veil. But with Jesus, everything changed. Paul tells us that in Christ Jesus, the veil of God’s presence has been set aside for good. WE can know God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. We can be transformed by the work we do in Christ’s name. We can be engaged like Christ in acts of mercy and forgiveness.
Today we move toward Lent. Today we prepare to join Jesus as he starts on his journey toward Jerusalem, the journey to his death on the cross and resurrection. On Tuesday we will work hard making and serving pancakes to our neighbors, which is the way St. Mark’s kicks off Lent. Then, on Ash Wednesday we will come to church in the evening and be humbled by these words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return".
Each year I strive to have a meaningful Lent. This year my personal Lenten practice will involve seeking encounters with God. I have lost the practice of stillness, of focus, of silence. As a girl, I often lost myself in books for days at a time. Now I sit down, then jump up to do something, then sit down, then remember that other thing I forgot to do, then sit down… you see the problem? So somehow, I hope to find daily time for silence and stillness. I believe God is present always but we can best notice God as our family did in the Lamar Valley when we were quiet and still.
Mother Teresa once said, “We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” We can all encounter God in unexpected places. We just have to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. As God commanded on the mountaintop, we need to listen to his son, Jesus. When we come to church, our primary purpose ought to be to listen to God, and in this way, to have an encounter with him. I pray that each of you may encounter God in your Lenten journeys.