Epiphany Last: Ex 24:12-18; Ps 99; 2 Pt 1:16-21; Mt 17:1-9
Sunday, February 26, 2017
St. John’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Several years ago, in the midst of my discernment for the priesthood, I had a dream. It was terrifying. I remember waking up from it in the middle of the night, not sure what my reality was and taking a good three to four minutes to figure out I was in my bed on Church Street in Selma, AL and the dream, or nightmare, was simply that”a dream. That dream haunted me for a couple of weeks and it wasn’t until a friend of mine who was interested in dream interpretation came by my office and told me something had been encouraging her to visit me that I finally told anyone about the dream.
In my dream, I was floating in a pool in the middle of a beautiful resort in the Caribbean. The back of the resort fed into the jungle and mountainous terrain but the front was all beach and gorgeous blue water. The pool was situated in the middle of the resort against that background of mountain. There was a tiki bar poolside and a great number of people were gathered there. I was the only one in the pool until Steve came to me and asked me if I knew what was going on. I told him I had no idea what was going on, though I knew exactly what was happening. You see, the people gathered at the tiki bar were parents of children I had kidnapped and buried alive in the mountainside; three children to be exact”a teenage boy, a young girl, and a toddler. I knew I had gotten away with their murders scott-free. No one would ever know I did it, not even Steve. And it was at this point of the dream that I woke up terrified as to what I had done. Like I said before, it took me several minutes to realize that I had not killed anyone and that I was not in the Caribbean, but in my own bed in Alabama.
The dream had been so vivid”the sensations so real. I could feel the wetness of the water and the heat of the sun. I could hear the anguish of the parents who couldn’t find their children. I could see vividly the colors of the sea, the jungle, the peak of the mountain, and the resort around me. I can still picture clearly every detail of that nightmare.
For two weeks after that dream, I was unable to shake off the anxiety and dread of that dream. How could I even dream about hurting children”much less taking them from their parents and burying them alive? How could I be so callous, so unfeeling, even in a dream, as to what I had done? How could I so easily lie to Steve and be someone I wasn’t? How could I do something so horrific? It haunted me”I couldn’t escape that dream. It wasn’t until Doris came to my office, feeling some invisible hand guiding her there that I knew I needed to talk out this dream. I recognized that God was somehow active in all this”having sent Doris to me and that I needed to tell the dream to someone in order to find peace.
As I began to describe the dream, Doris sat quietly in non-judgment. She gave me plenty of space to explore the dream, asking questions of clarification when I was done and then telling me that if it had been her dream, what it would have meant for her. As she talked, I was able to process the dream and realized that God was trying to get my attention. I honestly believe, the dream was from God.
I began to realize that the dream was directly related to my discernment process. I was still in the early stages of discernment to the priesthood and though I felt undoubtedly called, I really did not want to leave my home and family or my church. I love Selma and St. Paul’s and I was working as a youth and children’s minister, so I had been thinking for some time that I could just tell my priest that I was not going to follow this path of discernment and instead continue my work at St. Paul’s which was in service to the Lord anyway”surely God would be happy with that.
The dream was God’s response to that idea. Think about it, I’m in a pool”a significant symbol of baptism: the dying to old and rebirth to new life. Floating in that pool meant that I was in that liminal space, the in-between so to speak.
I had to make a decision as to whether or not I would maintain my old life or be born again into something new. Then there were the children, three of them to be exact”a teen, a young girl, and a toddler or symbols of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I had buried them alive”you can’t kill God”and walked away thinking I was scot-free. The problem was that since you can’t kill God, you can’t walk away without anyone knowing what you’ve done”God knows and I had to reconcile myself with the choice I was making. Sure, I could stay in Selma and continue my ministry with the church and no one would have known what I had given up. But God and I would always know of my rejection of him. That I could not escape.
For me, that was a moment of transfiguration. Though the dream was clearly God giving me clarification of my choice, it was not about me. It was about God. It was about change, becoming something new. That moment of transfiguration was God changing me. Change rocks your world. And since that time, whenever I doubt or wonder if I really am supposed to be a priest, that dream comes back to me. It is my mountaintop. It is my dazzling bright Jesus.
Peter, James, and John are led up to that mountain by Jesus and witness that life changing moment that provides clarity and certainty as to who Jesus really is and will give them hope and courage in the years to come: The years that include Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension; The years that will include the council of Jerusalem arguing as to what practices they must follow or not in order to be Christian; The years of evangelism”of rejection and acceptance; The years of martyrdom and the cries to denounce their Lord and Savior.
I wonder how often, those three thought back to that mountaintop moment and remembered the light, the voice, the touch of Jesus who told them to Get up and do not be afraid. I bet they never forgot the details of that moment and we know this story became an important part of the evangelist’s witness. We hear its echo in our reading from Second Peter this morning.
The transfiguration is more than an epiphany, revealing to us that Jesus is God’s Son, it is a reminder that there is work to be done in the Lord. We cannot simply lie around and expect God to take care of this world. He calls to us to get up, to not be afraid, to recognize the Son of God and keep moving forward in partnering with him to do his work of redemption in the world.
The transfiguration is the threshold moment between what was and what is to come. Peter gets caught up in this moment, wanting to hold on to it, to honor it in some way. And who can blame him? Later on, he’ll need this moment to hold on to when he sees Jesus nailed to the cross and, especially, when he faces his own.
This mountaintop experience happens in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel, it is not followed by a story in which the disciples are not present or do not act. The story that follows tells of the activity that Jesus encourages the disciples to do”sometimes they will be successful and sometimes they will not. But even as this story points us more and more toward the cross, this event”this dazzling white and voice of God will give them courage to not be afraid and to hold fast to the knowledge that Jesus is more than a man, he is the divine”the Son, the Beloved.
The Israelites knew that hope as well. There, on Mt. Sinai, when God appeared as a cloud and the glory of the Lord was a devouring fire that all the people of Israel could see, and Moses was called up into it”that is sustenance. That is a story repeated throughout the generations that nourished the hope of the Israelites even in the face of exile and loss. It is a story passed down because God appeared to them and cared for them and promised them to be their God and they would be his people, because it was a threshold moment, a moment of change in which they have escaped oppression and are poised on the threshold of new beginnings; a story of hope because God was with them. That is what transfiguration is about. It is about realizing that in our joys and sorrows God is with us.
In the moment of transfiguration, Jesus is the risen Son of God in all of his glory on that mountain together with the suffering Son of Man heading to Jerusalem and the cross. God knows joy and sorrow. He will find us in our brokenness when our hearts are torn in two and he will find us in our joys when our hearts sing with gladness. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves from suffering and there is nothing we can do to shield ourselves from the light of Christ.
This morning we will baptize baby Alex”as a baby, she has never personally known or experienced sin, but as she grows she will face temptations; she will fall and she will be redeemed. She will suffer and she will know joy, and she nor her parents, grandparents, or godparents can save her from that. But God will be with her.
He will come to her in visions and dreams, he will place people in her life that will help her to grow and be nourished in his love for her. He will send her her own epiphanies that she might discern his will for her in this world. He will guide and direct her through her sorrows and her joys. And we know this to be true because we stand here with her today on this threshold of change, not because she will be made divine, but because the divine is present and reveals his glory as he shines brightly through Alex and brings us hope. That is how the transfiguration matters, not simply that Christ revealed himself to be human and divine, but because the divine reveals himself to be present in our loves.