Ever since January 6, the Church has been in the Season of the Church Year known as Epiphany. The Season of Epiphany completes “The Cycle of Light” that began with Advent and continued through Christmas and Epiphany. In Advent, “the people who sat in darkness” prepared for the coming of the great light that came into the world when Jesus was born. During the 12-day Christmas Season (December 25 – January 6) the Church celebrated that the long-promised Light of the World had been born into the world. And during Epiphany, we have been “enlightened” by the “manifestation” of Who it is whose glory “shone forth” when Jesus Christ came to live among us.
A star has guided the Gentiles to their King, a Voice has identified Jesus as the Son of God, jars brimming with wine have revealed the miraculous power of this Jesus. During the weeks of Epiphany we have focused our attention on Jesus and the unfolding manifestation of His glory. How fitting it is for the final Sunday of Epiphany (the Sunday that immediately precedes Ash Wednesday) to be designated by the Church as Transfiguration Sunday.
The entire Epiphany Season is bracketed by two important events in the life of Christ: His Baptism in the river during which the heavens open, a Voice speaks, and the Spirit descends, and His Transfiguration, during which Jesus’ glory shines through His skin, Moses and Elijah appear, and the Voice of the Father again speaks. These are “aha” moments of enlightenment. They are revelations of Who it is Who has pitched His tent among us. They are “epiphanies” — visible manifestations of the divine.
About a week after Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:31-33), Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him as He went up a high mountain . There, He became radiant: His face shone like the sun, His clothes became “white as light”, and His Divinity shone through His entire body. At that point the prophets Elijah and Moses appeared and Jesus began talking with them. Peter began to suggest that he should make three tents: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. But before Peter could finish, he was interrupted. A cloud overshadowed them and a Voice was heard to say, ” This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fell to the ground in terror, but Jesus came to them, touched them and said, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” When the disciples lifted their eyes, no one was present but Jesus who told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until He had risen from the dead.
In the Transfiguration, Jesus was giving His disciples a foreshadowing of what they would see in the Resurrection. But He told them not to tell anyone what they had seen because they had absolutely no understanding of what any of it meant. And they wouldn’t understand until after the events of Good Friday and Easter. So, for now “don’t tell a soul what you have seen.” And what they have seen in the Transfiguration is the greatest epiphany so far –and it will remain so until Easter morning, when the Transfiguration will be utterly overshadowed.
The lessons for Transfiguration are 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13; 4:1-6; and Mark 9:2-9.
The hymns for this week are some of my favorites. (And if you are a subscriber to my blog, to see the videos of these hymns, just click on the title of the blog: The Transfiguration.)
The Processional Hymn, “Immortal Invisible” , is based on 1 Timothy 1:17 — “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” This hymn is a strong hymn of praise to God, who created and sustains the lives of all His creatures. The text focuses on the invisible Creator of the Universe, whose visible works testify to His glory and majesty. Appropriately enough for Epiphany and for Transfiguration, “Light” is the most prominent image in the hymn. God is hidden from our eyes because He is hidden from view by the very splendor of His glory. “Thou reignest in glory; Thou dwellest in light; Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight; All laud we would render, oh help us to see ’tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.”
The Hymn of the Day is ancient! “Oh, Wondrous Type, Oh Vision Fair.” It is an anonymous 15th century Latin hymn about the Transfiguration. We sing it to the powerful 15th century tune: Deo Gracias.
The first verse needs some explanation: theologians ordinarily use the word “type” when something in the Old Testament points to Christ. For example, Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness to heal the people is a type of Christ who was lifted up on the cross to save people from their sins. In this first verse, however, the Transfiguration is a type of the glory that all Christians will one day share in Heaven.1) Oh, wondrous type! Oh, vision fair of glory that the Church may share, which Christ upon the mountain shows, where brighter than the sun He glows. // 2)With Moses and Elijah nigh the incarnate Lord holds converse high; and from the cloud, the Holy One bears record to the only Son. // 3) With shining face and bright array, Christ deigns to manifest today what glory shall be theirs above who joy in God with perfect love. // 4) And faithful hearts are raised on high by this great vision’s mystery; for which in joyful strains we raise the voice of prayer, the hymn of praise. // 5) O Father, with the eternal Son and Holy Spirit ever one, we pray you, bring us by Your grace to see Your glory face to face.
The Distribution Hymn is the much beloved “Beautiful Savior.” When we sing this hymn on The Day of Transfiguration, it throws the final verse into stark relief. Suddenly “Beautiful Savior” isn’t a lovely nature hymn about the Lord of the “trees and flowers and chirping birds.” Rather it is a hymn that throws us to our knees before the Resurrected Lord of the Universe. 1) Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man! Truly I’d love Thee, truly I’d serve Thee, light of my soul, my joy, my crown. // 2) Fair are the meadows. fair are the woodlands, robed in flow’rs of blooming spring; Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, He makes our sorrowing spirits sing. // 3) Fair is the sunshine, fair is the moonlight. bright the sparkling stars on high; Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels in the sky. // 4) Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations, Son of God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be Thine.
The Recessional Hymn is “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” What a glorious hymn to sing as the last hymn before we walk into Lent! After all, it wasn’t nails that held Christ on the cross; it was Love Divine. Love is what brought Him to earth, made Him Incarnate, and motivated Him to die for our salvation. Love divine, all loves excelling!
1) Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heav’n to earth come down! Fix in us Thy humble dwelling, all Thy faithful mercies crown. Jesus, Thou art all compassion; pure unbounded love Thou art. Visit us with Thy salvation, enter ev’ry trembling heart.
2) Breathe, oh breathe Thy loving Spirit into ev’ry troubled breast; let us all in Thee inherit; let us find Thy promised rest. Take away the love of sinning, Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
3) Come, Almighty, to deliver; let us all Thy life receive; suddenly return, and never, nevermore Thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, serve Thee as Thy hosts above, pray and praise Thee without ceasing, glory in Thy perfect love.
4) Finish then Thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be; let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee! Changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise!
I hope to see you Sunday.