A Reading from the Second Book of Kings (2:1-12)
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (4:3-6)
If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (19:2-9)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
This past Tuesday, our family marked a small but significant milestone in its life. Mark and Micaela turned in to their teachers their choices for electives for this coming school year. It is the first time they have actually had a choice in which classes they are going to take. This year brings an important transition for them as they move from elementary school to Junior High.
We all experience key moments of transition in our lives: promotions from one part of our education to another, graduation, our first full-time job, marriage, the birth of a child, the day when our last child leaves home, the day that we retire. Each of these major milestones leads us to step back from our usual routine, the things we do day after day usually without thinking much about them, and to take a look at where we are in our lives as a whole. And sometimes, that process can enable us see important realities that we might have forgotten, or maybe missed altogether in our whirl of routine activities. They were there all along; we just did not notice them. Times of transition can help us to see anew.
Places can do that, too. During the eight or so years that Judy and I were “empty-nesters,” we took the opportunity to visit and hike in a variety of National Parks, both in the U.S. and in Canada. My personal favorite was Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which spans the border between the two countries, part of it lying in Montana and part in Alberta.
One morning, we decided to spend the day hiking a trail that begins at Logan Pass; at more than 6600 feet, it is the highest point along Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail is called the Highline Trail and runs along the west side of the Continental Divide. It was still fairly early when we started; and, a little way out, we found ourselves hiking through a cloud. We could see the trail clearly, along with our immediate surroundings, so we were not in any real danger; but we could not see very far to either side or up ahead.
Suddenly, we rounded a corner and stepped out of the cloud. The view was breathtaking. We could see literally for miles. There were the tops of the Rockies, maybe 50 yards at most to our right, and the valley far, far below to our left. Up ahead was a gorgeous Alpine meadow, filled with wildflowers. And along the trail, just beyond the point where we stood, two long-horned sheep took a quick glance at us and then scampered down the mountainside. This magnificent scenery had been there the whole time, but we had not been able to see it because of the cloud. Now, for far too brief a time, it was all ours to take in and to be embraced by its awesome beauty. We now could see what had been there all along, but what we had not seen before.
Today’s gospel reading is about seeing what was there all along, but what had been hidden from the disciples’ sight. Peter, James and John were among the first people who had begun to follow Jesus. They had presumably been with him for quite a while. Yet until this moment, they had not seen a central aspect of who he was, a central part of his identity.
Back in the first verse of the gospel according to Mark, the evangelist spoke of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Here was Jesus’ two-part identity that would be revealed in the course of the gospel story: “Christ” or “Messiah” and “Son of God.”
Six days before the event narrated in our gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples had been with him at Caesarea Philippi, and Peter had affirmed the first part of that identity, calling Jesus “the Messiah,” “the Christ.” Now today, here on the mountain, a voice from a cloud completed that description: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” The reality of who Jesus was had been with them all along, but they just had not seen it. The way that St. Mark’s paints their awakening is ironic. The disciples had been figuratively in a cloud ever since they had become his disciples, and had not been able to see who he really was. Now, enveloped in a real, physical cloud there on the mountain, they could at last see clearly.
What are those times and places in life in which we, at least for a moment, step out of a cloud and see clearly the presence and life-giving love of God in our lives? Sometimes, that experience comes during particular events, such as the transitions in life that I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, it happens because we are in a particular place. Celtic spirituality speaks of those times and places as the “thin places” of life: the places where the separation between God and our everyday lives is thin, where we are so close to God that we can catch at least a glimpse of that greater reality.
There are special times and places in every life that allow us to look through the clouds that surround us and find ourselves, at least briefly, within a far greater world: the world as God sees it. Unfortunately we do not always take time to notice them, to identify them and to acknowledge them. That is the first step.
But the key issue, when we do notice them, is what we choose to do with those experiences. Do we savor them for a moment and then go back to living life the way we did before? Or do we allow those experiences to transform our way of seeing on an ongoing basis? Do we allow them to make a permanent change in us?
My own favorite line from this morning gospel story comes at the end. After the glorious scene that Peter, James and John had witnessed, after the appearance of Elijah and Moses, after the coming of the cloud and the dramatic declaration from the voice in the cloud, Mark concludes the account by noting: “When they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.”
Do you suppose that that was the way they thought about it: nobody out of the ordinary, only Jesus? Or could it be that, because they had had such an extraordinary experience there on the mountain, they had now come to a fuller realization of who Jesus was: a deeper understanding of the one who walked among them every day: the one who was both the Messiah and God’s Son, the Beloved?
Where are the “thin places” in our lives: those times and places where we are so close to God that we can almost reach out and touch our Creator? Do we take time to notice them? And, if we do, do we allow them to be just a nice experience, relegated to our past? Or do we allow them to change us, to transform us, to make a lasting difference in our lives?
This morning, as we conclude this Epiphany season, we will once again be using, in today’s Eucharistic Prayer, the Preface for the Epiphany. It is one that gives thanks to God “because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” May that light shine in our hearts and in our lives, helping us to see in new ways: helping us to see the God who is always close to us, helping us to catch sight of and work for the fullness of the reign of God which, in Jesus, has come near.