The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, which is also known as Transfiguration Sunday, we, like Moses and the Israelites and Jesus and the disciples, stand at an important juncture in our journey. As you heard in the passage from Exodus, Moses has ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the Commandments, and the instructions that will go with him as he descends the mountaintop to inform the Israelites on how they are to live as they enter the new land, the Promised Land, as the people of God. In the gospel lesson you just heard, Jesus and the disciples ascend a mountain, maybe Mount Horeb. They, too, receive instructions and the magnificent manifestation of God, that they could not mistake, as they are preparing to descend the mountain and make their way ultimately to Jerusalem and the Cross. We, atop Mount St. Alban. And please know, as much as I love the Cathedral, I’m not confused; it doesn’t necessarily equate to Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb; but you get the point. We, too, stand at this juncture today to be touched by the manifestation of God as we prepare ourselves this week to begin our Lenten journey to Calvary and the Cross.
The common thread in the Scriptures that you heard is a God who cares enough about us that God did not want us to miss it. Whether it was the cloud of fire on Mount Sinai or with the disciples to see Jesus transfigured, to see God face-to-face, and to hear God say, “This is My Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him.” We, too, come here today to be touched by the living God as we begin this important journey this week. As I was listening and praying about the Scriptures and the Transfiguration, I was reminded of a very popular TV show that was airing in about the mid to late 90s. Some of you may have seen it as well. It was called Touched by an Angel and over a nine-year period it was consistently ranked in the top ten TV shows. And for those of you who saw the series, it was really fairly simple. There were two protagonists portrayed as angels: one of whom was a supervisor angel by the name of Tess portrayed by Della Reese. The other was a supervisor angel-in-training named Monica portrayed by Roma Downey. And in each episode the angels would be sent by God to provide guidance and support and encouragement to a person or group of people that were at a crossroads in their life, with an important decision to make. And they would manifest themselves and God’s love and grace. And then at some point in the show, and I can’t remember it well enough, but I think it tended to be toward the end, the angels—when they wanted to make their selves known in the divine sort of way, much like the Transfiguration—would be bathed in light, their clothes like a halo. And I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice if when God sent us messengers that they would glow for us?” It would make it much, much easier.
Now, as you think about that show, of course, here we are in 2014, some twenty years later, post-Enlightenment people, sophisticated folks. And some of us might be skeptical about a show like that, that it might be a little too simplistic. But you can’t ignore the fact that week after week, twenty-four million people tuned in. Why did they do that? What were they seeking? The message of the show was clear: God exists; God loves you; and God’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with you. Twenty-four million people week after week.
I would ask you, “Why are you here today? What are you hoping to tune into?” And if we really got deep down deep, isn’t one of the reasons that all of us are here is to be touched by that message that God exists, that God loves you, and that God’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with you, to be touched by the living God and to be transformed by it? As I was thinking about contemporary times, of someone who manifested that transformative love and light of Christ in such an extraordinary way, I was reminded of Mother Teresa. What we know about Mother Teresa is that she became a nun at age eighteen. And, of course, we know about her public ministry: that extraordinary ministry that she served the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, that she formed the Missionaries of Charity. What we didn’t know about Mother Teresa until ten years after her death, was that for the last fifty years of her life she had no personal experience of God.
A book was written called Come Be My Light and the editor went through some 6000 letters that Mother Teresa had written—that she intended to be destroyed, but they weren’t. There were letters to her spiritual advisers and religious authorities where she poured out the experience of her inner life. And in the early part of her life, of course, she had very intense, intimate, personal, mystical experiences of Jesus. And she very clearly heard Jesus say to her: “Come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light.” It was such a persistent voice that she couldn’t ignore it and that’s what led her to go to Calcutta and to serve the poorest of the poor. But, paradoxically, very shortly after she began that ministry she no longer experienced the presence of God in her life. She writes painfully, achingly, about the darkness, the despair, the desolation that was her interior life. And it was only through the help of spiritual directors and others who journeyed with her that she came to understand that part of that desolation and darkness empowered her to bring her witness and her light to those she was serving because that was their inner life: the darkness, the desolation, the deep longing to experience the living God. And what they had was darkness and that empowered her to reach out and serve the people that she understood now so much better.
On this last Sunday after the Epiphany we are called forth to experience that light of Christ as we begin our journey, a journey to the Cross. But the story, we know, doesn’t end there. And some of us may think, well, we’re not Mother Teresa and, of course, we’re not. But God doesn’t ask most of us to be Mother Teresa, thanks be to God. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that, “God will take your experiences, mistakes, and false starts and transform you so Christ’s transfiguring love can show through.” We may not be Mother Teresa but we are called to experience the living Christ and to take it out from this place to the dark places to proclaim a clear message that God exists; that God loves us; and that God’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with us; and take the transforming transfiguring light of Christ out into the darkness and to hear Christ say, “Come, be My light.” Amen.