Sermon for February 14, 2021: Epiphany Last (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)

Updated: Aug 1

You have probably heard it said that 2020 was a “dumpster fire,” in which so many things just went wrong. Worst of all was the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic that spread among us. The disease that has taken so many loved ones caused us to separate from one another out of necessity.


2021 has come, and we have elected a new President but have seen great turmoil around the installation of the new Presidential Administration. We see new hope in the development of vaccines against the COVID virus, but in the meantime, it still deals out death.


I recently lost a dear friend of almost 60 years to this dreadful disease. Káawan Sangáa or Woody Morrison his English name. He was an Elder in the Haida nation and, more importantly, their Story Teller in the oral tradition of history keeping. He was one of the most selfless persons that I have ever known, and although not a Christian, he was very much Christ-like.


Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany in which the Protestant Churchs use the readings for the Transfiguration of Christ in keeping with the theme of Light in Epiphany. The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ describes a theophany, an experience of God’s ever-near eternal presence. Mark tells the story with straightforward simplicity. Jesus goes to a mountain to pray, accompanied by his dear friends, Peter, James, and John. And there they see him transfigured, dazzling white, shining with the glory of God, and talking with the great prophets Moses and Elijah.(1) The scene reminds us of Moses’ Transfiguration in Exodus, when he came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the covenant, his face shining so brightly from his encounter with God that his people were afraid, and he had to cover it with a veil. In each story, a mountain act as a thin place, a bridge between heaven and earth.


The Transfiguration describes a mystical event on the mountain, a visible expression of the union of human and divine in Jesus. Like Moses’ people, Jesus’ disciples are astonished by what they have seen. Astonished and in awe of that glimpse of God’s eternal glory and Jesus’ unity with that glory. and indeed the unity of all humankind in God and Jesus.

Contained within these stories of Transfiguration, these revelations of God’s glory, are human grief stories. Elisha accompanies his beloved mentor, Elijah, as far as possible until he can no longer see him, then tears his clothes in lamentation. Peter, James, and John too are reluctant to let go of the marvelous, concrete, human manifestation of God’s eternal light. Peter suggest that they might make dwellings for the prophets, keep them here with them. They do not want their beloved to leave them behind.


The two stories we’ve heard today are of thresholds, moments of crossing over, journeying toward the point of life and death, the temporal and eternal, with a loved teacher. I think it is very much like a scene from hospice care or my experience with my dear friend Woody’s passing. Family and friends were gathered vicariously via Caring Bridge to a vigil at the threshold of life and death. Using Caring Bridge, Woody’s daughter allowed us To accompany our loved one as far along the journey as we could. We may have had a glimpse of the shining light toward which Woody has already turned his face. “Please stay, I’ll build you a house,” you might plead your heart. Or, since you must go, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”


Like Elisha, we look for that light and that power in the Spirit. And we look to be that power in the Spirit. From the second epistle to the church in Corinth, Paul’s words give us some further guidance. “Let light shine out of darkness,” Paul affirms that we are the bearers of the divine light. Jesus shines in our hearts, giving light and reflecting the glory of God from within us. That uncreated light that shone from the face of Jesus and terrified the disciples is now inside us. We are bearers of the divine light.(2)


The psalm for today begins with a glorious manifestation of God who shines forth does not keep silent but is seen in fire and storm to judge the people, renewing the covenant in worship and declaring the righteousness of God. With the Transfiguration story in mind, today’s psalm clarifies that a glorious experience of divine presence is not an end in itself but is for both judgment and renewal.


Through that judgment, Jesus will reveal to everyone, including ourselves, who we are. No one will be able to hide from the truth. What we have made of ourselves, who we have become, will be clear. We will not dispute it.(3) We can deny nothing because it will be true, and we will know it is true. We will know ourselves, and what we do out of love connects us with the God who is love, and so is done for God.(4)


On the other hand, rejection of love distances us from God. What is done against love is done against God. Thus, as we grow in love, as we act out of love and help others around us, we will find, we did it for God, even as when we abandon love, and act with malice towards others and hurt them, we will find we have also done such to God.(5)


God gathers His covenant people who give praise and worship on the mountain top. Worship is so compelling because it is the one place we can come and be completely open and honest before God. Here we do not need to pretend. Here, at worship, before God, we can be who we most truly are. As we pray at the start of every Eucharist, ‘To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you, no secrets are hidden.’ At worship, there’s no need to pretend, no need to keep up appearances.(6)


Mountain top experiences do not last forever, and we, like Jesus, Peter, James, and John, as well as Moses, must come down to the valley. In our everyday life, we are to be the bearers of the divine light of God’s love in our hearts to the world. Grief and suffering are transformed by the mystical knowledge that we shall be together in God’s love again, as we always have been and ever shall be.


It is easy to compartmentalize our feelings, and hide our light under a bushel, so better to fit in the world, but we are called to share God’s light of love and to work to establish God’s reign in the world. AMEN.


Transfigurations Great and Small – February 11, 2018 – St …. http://www.stpaulsnorwalk.org/transfigurations-great-and-small-february-11-2018/

  • Strange and Wonderful, Last Sunday in Epiphany (B …. https://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermon/strange-and-wonderful-last-sunday-in-epiphany-b-february-14-2021/

  • A Little Bit of Nothing. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/henrykarlson/

  • The Last Judgment, The Judgment of Love | Henry Karlson. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/henrykarlson/2021/02/the-last-judgment-the-judgment-of-love/

  • The Last Judgment, The Judgment of Love | Henry Karlson. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/henrykarlson/2021/02/the-last-judgment-the-judgment-of-love/

  • Sermon – SSJE. https://www.ssje.org/category/sermon/