First, in the florists, candy, and greeting card calendar today is St. Valentine’s day. Valentine comes from the Latin word valens – worthy, strong, powerful. Valentine was a popular name in late antiquity. Three St. Valentines are associated with Rome and with February 14. St. Valentine is connected with human love is in late medieval romance literature including Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 1300’s. Another connection with human love may come from the weather. Asheville and the Mediterranean are on the same parallel. The worst of winter is over. We have time for weddings before the prohibition of Lent.
Second, in the church calendar this Last Sunday after Epiphany is one of the turning points in the church year. The church year is an ellipse around the fixed date of Christmas and the movable date of Easter. Next Wednesday Ash Wednesday, then 40 days plus Sundays of Lent, Easter April 5, then 50 days including Sundays of celebration until Pentecost, then 6 months until Advent and Christmas. In the 1960’s a revision of the Roman Catholic calendar assigned the Transfiguration gospel to the Sunday before Lent, replacing three Sundays of Pre-Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquegesima). Pre-Lent began about 550 with prayer that God would spare Rome a spring raid by the Lombards. Once Charlemagne defeated the Lombards in 775 people began to celebrate in Carnivals.
The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had been baptized by John and tempted. He preached and healed, called the disciples and taught them about God’s coming kingdom. The disciples, sent out with power and authority to preach and heal, came back rejoicing. Jesus saw they were ready to enter more fully into their calling. So one day when they were alone he asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” They told them the many things they had heard people say about him. Then Jesus asked them a question each one of us has to answer for ourselves, “And who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ of God.” Jesus told them plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and on the 3rd day be raised.” They didn’t understand. Even Peter rebuked Jesus, “God forbid Lord; this shall never happen to you.” Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan.”
Then Jesus was called up the mountain, and as he was praying his appearance changed and even his clothing became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared, Moses through whom God had given the Law, the sign of the covenant, and Elijah the first of the prophets through whom God had called Israel back to the glory of obedience, prophets through whom God had worked many miracles. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his death and resurrection God way to establish his kingdom through his church forever.
From the cloud came the voice of God, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” On Sinai God spoke in thunder and lightning to the people of Israel. On the same mountain he spoke to Elijah in the still small voice. We are not told what tone of voice God used at the Transfiguration, but the disciples heard and obeyed. From the Transfiguration Jesus’ face was resolutely set toward Jerusalem, toward death and resurrection. The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry.
Jesus’ death on the cross sets us free from the power of sin. Jesus’ resurrection is our assurance of new life. In baptism we are made members of the body of Christ and by the same Holy Spirit who came on the disciples at Pentecost we are given power to lead transfigured lives.
In Genesis we learn that we are made in the image of God. But God’s image is marred by our willful separation from God. We inherit from our first ancestors the desire to be like God. The story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent is a parable of our wanting to be like God, and of the bad consequences when we want to do it our way. Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to be like God in his way.
Lent can be a time when we can focus our spiritual attention on showing God’s image in us. The Transfiguration can be a turning point in our lives as it was in the life of Jesus and his disciples, as it is remembered in the church year. Let me end with some questions.
What are your turning points? Have you come to the place in your life where you are ready to make, or to make again, your own covenant with Jesus, where you are ready to receive the love Jesus has for you and commit your life to him in the fellowship of Jesus’ body the church? We all have to do that once, and then repeat as needed.
Have you received his love and committed your life to Jesus and now feel the call to move to new and hard and active trust in his forgiveness and new life? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to turn loose and trust to his love?
The penitential season of Lent offers us opportunity for worship, fellowship, and study so we may grow in our new life in Christ. Jesus and his disciples turned at the Transfiguration to death and resurrection. May God grant us grace to turn and turn again to him in worship, love, and service.