Response to the Light
I am feeling somewhat humbled to be delivering a sermon to you today as we who worship at Comox United have been treated to some pretty great preaching in this sanctuary; inspiring services lead by both Lay and Ordained people. I pray that my thoughts and words will be acceptable to those both here, at home and who will receive a printed text.
In Jesus name, Amen
This is Transfiguration Sunday, when we recognize a feast day that apparently was part of the Christian year as far back as the 9th century. We in the UCofC have only been celebrating in more recently when we adopted the use of the Revised Common Lectionary as a guide for preaching.
But when I woke up this morning at 4:00 a.m. as I do sometimes, I felt uncomfortable with my opening words of the sermon. Like many of you, I have been distracted by the invasion of Ukraine by Putin and felt called to say something about it. I was feeling so hopeless and afraid for the future of the world. Then I remembered the images I caught last night on the News showing how capital cities around the world and including Canada, were lighting up prominant buildings and memorials with the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag. I also clicked on my mobile and found a headline from the Guardian Newspaper that read “Putin shunned by the World as his hopes of Quick Victory evaporate.” Even some of his allies are not being supportive and there are Russians who are gathering in protest of this act of aggression.
In a world that was growing tired of the Covid pandemic, when people were turning against one another over vaccine mandates, they are now united over this unjust invasion of Ukraine by Putin. So far the responses have been non-violent sanctions as well as some military support. I began to feel a sense of Hope.
I'm now ready to share my thoughts on the Transfiguration.
I really enjoy learning about the background to Biblical stories and church events so I found a few little facts that were new to me that I'd like to share with you.I'll be short.
There is evidence that the Tranfiguration was being celebrated in the 9th century, but a regular, defined time of year was not really set until the mid 15th century when the early Catholic Church chose Aug. 6th as a permanent date, like Christmas. The Anglican and Lutheran churches followed suit and it became a major feast in the church year. As far as I can figure out from Wikipeadia there were no changes until the early 1970's when the Revised Common Lectionary came into use. For some reason that was when the Sunday before Ash Wednesday was established and the UCofC began using the the Common Lectionary.
My guess is that if you regularly attended the Anglican, Lutheran or Catholic churches before 1970 there would have been a recognition of the Tranfiguration of Jesus usually around Aug.6. If you were brought up in the UCofC or Baptist traditions, you might have missed it. It helped me understand my knowledge gap, but I must say, I do truly enjoy both recognizing, celebrating and learning more about this old feast.
So what does Transfiguration mean? You heard the description in the passage read from the Gospel of Luke this morning (Luke 9:28-36). Incidentally, this event is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels and the accounts are remarkably similar. So also are the events recorded 6-8 days prior when Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. The healing of a young boy from an unclean spirit is recorded after the transfiguration story. There's absolutely no question about the importance of this event and the desire of the Gospel writers to get it right.
But what does Transfiguration really mean? A generic or none religious meaning for the word is simply that transfiguration is 'a complete change of form and appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.' I think we all would like that. For the Christian community it takes on a much deeper meaning. You heard how the appearance of Jesus was indeed changed, not only his face but his clothes changed, becoming dazzling white. In one of the accounts the face of Jesus is described as 'shining like the sun'. This was evidence for the disciples that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. All this glory, this light indicated that God was very present, because Jesus was present and He was God's Son.
But there was a lot more. Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray, as he had done before, and he had taken three disciples with him: Peter, John and James. Then Moses and Elijah showed up. Peter, always a person of action, wanted to build three shelters, or booths for them; one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. But a cloud came down and they all heard God's voice saying to them, 'This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him'. The cloud lifted and they were just the four again. The story closes with these words, 'They (the disciples) told no one of the things they had seen.'
The timing of this event is significant because many people had heard God speak before, three years prior, at Jesus' baptism. Luke 3: 21-22. This time God was speaking to Jesus, ”You are my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This was at the very beginning of his ministry, before he had even called his disciples. But when God's voice was heard at the time of the Transfiguration it was just before he 'turned his face toward Jerusalem' (Luke 9: 51) and the certainty of the cross; the conclusion of his ministry. This event, this transfiguration, was the confirmation that he was indeed the Christ, the Messiah.
Now I'm going to make a bit of a leap here to the present time. We really haven't seen any dramatic Transfigurations lately, but I'm sure you have noticed now and then a person who might have had a very special glow about them. I recall being at a Christmas concert many years ago when I noticed a certain woman of mature years who had the most amazing glow about her. She was a nice looking person, but she really had a different look about her. She had been a widow for a couple of years and I learned later that she and a widower in her congregation had recently 'discovered' one another and fallen in love. It showed on the both of them. Love will do that. God's love will do that.
When I first began coming to Comox United I met another beautiful woman who had a gentle glow about her, Rhonda Scriven. She happened to be sitting behind me and gently tapped me on the shoulder and said,'You're new here aren't you.' and we had a brief chat. What a blessing she was to those she met.
We will often see that same glow on the face of a mother after the arrival of a new baby, that same glow can also be seen on the face of the dads, certainly Keltie's dad. God's love can be seen and felt in many ways.
Now I have my own story that I want to share with you. It's of a deeply spiritual moment that changed my life completely. And like the disciples in today's story who were reluctant to tell about their experience on the mountain, I was also reluctant to tell mine at first. More about that later.
It happened fifty years ago in December 1971. That was when I found myself in a hospital in Edmonton, 300 kms. from my husband and two children; Keltie was 2 and a half and Kristi was 9 months. The recovery from a previous surgery was not going well so I was sent to Edmonton for further testing. One of the tests was done on the day before the scheduled second surgery and it was extremely painful so I was quickly returned to my room. Later in the day, when I was alone, I began to shiver uncontrollably and was rather frightened, so I decided to pray.
I simply said the name 'Jesus' over and over again. Then He appeared, standing on the side of a mountain as he was in the transfiguration story, only this was a sub-Alpine meadow covered in Icelandic poppies. He reached out His hand to me and I reached up to take His, when I suddenly stopped and said, 'I can't come with you now. I have a husband and two children who need me.' Then He went like this (OK sign). I came back down to my hospital bed and was surrounded by quite a few anxious people doing 'things'. Apparently there had been an alert of some kind as I hadn't been able to reach my bell. I wanted to say, 'Don't worry. I'm going to be OK.' But I couldn't speak. One of the few times in my life I have been rendered speechless. I was very weak after the surgery, very thin but very happy and had a sense of overwhelming peace. My life was changed forever.
In the beginning I was somewhat reluctant to share my experience ( like the disciples) but I became more comfortable as time went on. I'm not sharing this experience with you to try and prove to you that there really is a God or that Heaven is real. But rather as simply something to think about if thoughts of these subjects occur to you. Similar experiences have happened to many people, people of many faiths, people of no faith in particular, and people of many cultures in many places throughout the world.
At some point around that time I read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' book Life After Life and found it very helpful. Over the years she has recorded hundreds/thousands of these experiences and found that there were common elements throughout which not only validated my own experience but reflected experiences told to me by friends.
This was particularly comforting because in the beginning people (including ministers) were skeptical, calling the experience a hallucination, wishful thinking, and my favourite'interesting, hmm'. Commonalities include: finding yourself in a beautiful garden or a favourite place, meeting a loved one who has passed on, crossing a bridge or a river, seeing a tunnel with a beautiful welcoming light at the end, and particularly never feeling afraid of death afterwards. Perhaps you know someone who has had such an experience.
Now, I can't say for sure whether there is a heaven, but we do know that there is another dimension available to us at the time of death. Kubler-Ross says that at this time of transition there is an existence where there is no time or space. Maybe it is right here. Definitely either close at hand or at least readily available. And definitely still beyond our full comprehension. Which is why I was both compelled to share this experience with you on the one hand, yet somewhat apprehensive on the other hand. I think mostly I want you to not be afraid. I hadn't lived a perfect life before that day so long ago, and I certainly haven't been perfect in the fifty years since. But I was accepted then as it seems so are many. Just believe. Believe in the Light. Amen