When I was planning my move to Philadelphia almost seven years ago, I received widely varying and always interesting feedback about my choice of apartments. I live at the Marine Club at Broad and Washington, a location that inspired comments ranging from the nostalgic (“Oh, I used to work there back when it was the quartermaster depot for the United States Marines,”) to the disbelieving (“You do know that that’s south of South Street, right?”) I’ll let you guess which of these comments was made by the rector. But the comment I heard more than any other was this one: “Oh, wow! You’ll be in a good spot for the next Phillies parade.”
Now remember, this was 2011, when the Phillies’ victory in the 2008 World Series was still fresh on people’s minds. By the time I got to town, the players were a little older, their bats a little slower, and the chances of my seeing a championship parade during my time of living on Broad Street rather slim. So you can imagine my joy when the Eagles pulled off their upset at last weekend’s Super Bowl. At last! I thought – a championship parade that I can watch from the steps of my building. Which is exactly what I did. No waiting in the cold for me; I just popped outside for 15 minutes of cheering and confetti and then popped right back inside to my comfy couch.
Thursday in Philly was, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, a celebration for the ages. It was a kind of impromptu holiday, a day when all other concerns took a back seat to the deeply rooted impulse not only to toast the victors, but to toast them together. There was no school, no work, no diet, no deadline; there was only the desire to be happy together, to celebrate together, to cheer and chant all together. For one day here in Philadelphia, there were no worries; there was only this shared sense of glory. It should be said that this isn’t entirely accurate, of course. The people who were celebrating on Thursday were people who had the luxury of escaping for a day. It’s hard to chant and cheer and forget your worries when you’re living on the street, say, or fighting a heroin addiction. But for those of us who are privileged enough to be able to, as adults, spend an entire day at a parade, Thursday’s celebration in the winter sun helped us to set aside our troubles and revel in this glory, if only for only one moment.
The moment didn’t last. It never does. On Friday people went back to work, and while I’m sure there were plenty of tales told that morning of who got to Eakins Oval the earliest and who got what amazing video, by lunchtime all the stories had been shared, and once again the world – the real, non-midnight green world – started to come back into focus. There were decisions to be made and bills to be paid. There were appointments to be kept and obligations to be met. There was life, real life, and while the memories of this glory moment carried with them significant joy, they were not powerful enough. The glory faded, and there was life, again.
There was a decided lack of confetti on the Mount of Transfiguration. There wasn’t much of a crowd there, either, just Peter and James and John, and Jesus and Moses and Elijah. But Jesus’ transfiguration was a moment of incredible glory, a witnessing beyond the disciples’ wildest dreams. It was a moment for the ages, an unanticipated flash of such dazzling brilliance that I imagine the disciples must have felt their everyday anxieties falling away. No more frustration with the Pharisees, no more uneasiness about Jesus’ predictions of suffering and death, no more worrying of any kind. This glory moment was suddenly all that mattered. Peter was so convinced of this that he suggested they all pull up lawn chairs and sit on the curb a little longer. Why leave this place? Why go back to the real world if they could stay and stretch this moment into infinity?
But this moment wasn’t meant to last, and Peter is missing the point. The truth is that he just doesn’t know what to say; he is transported, but terrified, the Gospel says. But while Peter may not know what to say, God does. God’s voice rolls in from the heavens like thunder and tells Peter, simply, stop talking. “This is my Son, the Beloved;” the voice calls out, “listen to him!” And just like that, the moment is over. The disciples look up and see Jesus alone.
On the way back down the mountain, back down to real life, the disciples must have been wondering what this moment was meant for. Why had Jesus brought them here? Why had Jesus showed them this? Was this moment meant as a gift for them, an impromptu holiday from the challenges of bearing their cross? Was it meant to strengthen them? To inspire them? Was Jesus telling them everything would be all right, or was he just trying to give them one moment of light before the coming darkness of which he spoke so often? As they are walking and wondering, Jesus opens his mouth and begins to speak. And the disciples, as they had just been instructed, listen to him. “As they were coming down the mountain,” Saint Mark tells us, “he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
With these words, the disciples look down and see their feet firmly planted back in the real world. For here, once again, is their master’s sorrowful prediction of death and his incomprehensible assertion of rising again from that death. Here, once again, is the hard life of discipleship with all of its unknowns; here, once again, is the cross. Except that in this moment, at the base of this mount of glorious transfiguration, the disciples feel something shift. They notice something miraculous and new. For while the glory moment has passed, Christ’s glory hasn’t faded at all. True, Jesus’ robes have changed back to their normal hue and Moses and Elijah have vanished, but still the disciples can feel the glory. They can still see it; the holy light that was so bright they had to shade their eyes has left a corona around the edges of their vision, and they can see the sparks and flashes of glory everywhere. The moment of revelation may be gone, but Christ’s glory has lingered on.
On this last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, when we are about to enter into the season of Lent with its real world call to repentance and self-denial, Christ invites us to witness this same, lasting glory. True, we will leave this holy place, the incense will swirl into nothingness and the final notes of the hymn will fade away. When we step outside this place, real life may come roaring back at us with all of its worries, but Christ’s glory will not fade. The moments of transcendence that we find here in these walls, the moments of holiness that we find in our own prayer, these moments are not glimpses of a glory that ebbs and flows in this world. They are moments that bind together all of the ebbs and flows of our own lives, revealing the glory that never fades away. Christ’s glory lasts, it lingers, it runs the length and breadth of our reality, bearing our burdens and transforming them and us from glory into glory.
When we are faithful and proclaim the Gospel, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are terrified and have no idea what we are saying, Christ’s glory lasts. When we recognize it, Christ’s glory lasts. When we ignore it, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are generous and beautiful, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are vile and reprehensible, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are brave, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are cowards, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are highly favored, Christ’s glory lasts. When we are underdogs, Christ’s glory lasts. When we celebrate, Christ’s glory lasts. When we mourn, Christ’s glory lasts. When we respond to our neighbor’s needs, Christ’s glory lasts. When we condemn those in need to their suffering, Christ’s glory lasts. When we protect the vulnerable, Christ’s glory lasts. When we blame the victim, Christ’s glory lasts. When we speak truth, when we lie, when we love one another, when we hate our enemies, when we are willing to climb a mountain to follow him, when we are willing to follow only if it means stepping outside of our comfort zone for 15 minutes or less, Christ’s glory still lasts.
There is nothing we can do to diminish this glory, just as there is nothing we can do to bring it into being. Our task is to live as if we expect to see it. Our task is to live with eyes wide open, searching for this glory in the world, trusting that today, each day, is a day for the ages, when Christ’s victory continues to draw us in to share in his glory together. Our task is to live with ears open to hear God’s holy imperative – Here is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him – and to respond with happy and humbled hearts, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. So look and listen, you loyal followers of Christ. Today is a festival day. The veil is lifted, and the glory of the Lord is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Look and listen, you holy disciples. For this moment of glory will last. It always does. Hallelujah.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
11 February 2018
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia