Sermon for February 19th, 2023
On this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, as the Church is preparing to make the turn into our Lenten season and the journey which leads us symbolically both to the cross and to the resurrection of Our Lord, we hear the familiar gospel passage of Jesus on the mountaintop, transfigured before a few of his disciples. They have a vision. It is an experience; an encounter with something mysterious. For a moment, Jesus’s appearance changes right before their eyes. They already loved him and respected him. These disciples had been following him for a while now. They knew that Jesus was a wise teacher, that’s why they were there, but now they saw something else: they saw glory. They saw light, radiance coming from him. They saw power. It was a strange power too, because it both terrified them and comforted them. It brought them to their knees, but then immediately said to them “do not fear.”
But then they saw something else too, as Jesus’s image was transformed or transfigured before them, they also saw two very familiar figures beside him: Moses and Elijah. Now I don’t think that the Bible had pictures in Jesus’s day, so I don’t know how Peter and James and John recognized that this was Moses and Elijah; I doubt that they were wearing name tags. There must have just been something about them that made the disciples realize “oh wait, I know who you are! I recognize you!” Sort of like walking through a church and looking for symbols in the stained-glass windows that help you figure out the story that is being told. You look for the clues that tell you who this is. Maybe Moses was carrying a couple tablets and looked like Charlton Heston. Maybe Elijah was riding on a chariot of fire. These are details I would like to know, but sadly the scriptures don’t give them. What the scripture does tell us though is that there is this profound moment when these disciples recognize that there is this mysterious connection between this man that they know, Jesus, and these two men that their ancestors knew, Moses and Elijah. There is some intimacy, there is some dialogue between these three figures. They are related. That is what this vision reveals to them: there is a connection here. Pay attention! God is showing them something.
You may or may not be familiar with the word ‘type’ as it is used in reference to scripture or religion, but it pops up now and then, even in our hymns, and it is a very important concept to understand, not just for when you are reading the Bible, but also to help you see God at work in your daily life.
“O wondrous type, o vision fair of glory that the church may share” we sang in our opening hymn this morning. Type. There is also the old Latin hymn Tantum Ergo that we sing at special services here that celebrate the Eucharist: “Therefore we before him bending, this great sacrament revere. Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here.” Types and shadows. So, what is a type? What does that word mean in this context?
Well, I don’t usually use props in the pulpit, but in this case, I think it is genuinely helpful to use a visual. We all know what this is. It is an arrow. An arrow is a symbol or a sign that points you in a direction. It says to you, “go this way,” or “go that way.” We see arrows all the time. Our lives are filled with arrows that guide us and direct us. They point us to where we want to go and hopefully move us away from places we don’t want to go. They show us the way. Well, the easiest way to understand a type, is to think of it as an arrow. A type is a symbol that points you in a direction. A type is revealing something to you. It is directing you to something else.
Our scriptures are filled with types; symbols that direct. Scriptural passages that point you to other scriptural passages. Arrows. For Christians, what all these arrows are ultimately pointing to is God. Specifically, the God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ. The arrows are revelations of God, that point us to the supreme revelation of God in Jesus. Sometimes those arrows are people, great heroes of the Bible: Jonah, Moses, Elijah, Joshua, Noah. All of them, in their own way, arrows pointing to God. Jonah calling the people of Ninevah to repentance and offering them God’s forgiveness. Moses and Joshua, leading God’s people out of slavery into the promised land. Elijah, calling the dead to life. Noah, saving humanity by carrying them through the waters. All in their own way, these figures pointed to what God was going to do in Jesus, but they also reveal to us little glimpses of who our God is, and what he is like and what he is up to. Beginning with those three disciples on the mountaintop, the early Christians looked back at their scriptures, their history and their faith, and they began to realize that all along the way there had been these arrows, symbols, that had been directing them to Jesus. Before Jesus was ever born, God had been revealing himself to his people. Showing them his character. Peter and James and John had this great moment of revelation, but part of that revelation was the realization that God has been directing and guiding and pointing us to himself all along.
And see, part of what is amazing about types, is that they are each encounters with God. It is as if every time you find one of these arrows in scripture, it is being held in God’s hand. God is directing YOU to where he is. God is revealing himself to YOU. Not just to the people in Ninevah, or the Hebrews in Egypt, or to people living in distant lands and ancient times. God is revealing himself to you. You are being given the chance to see Jesus for who he really is, just like those disciples on the mountaintop.
Some of the early Christian leaders believed that the world could be filled with types. Not just the scriptures, but the world you and I live in today. I’m inclined to think they were right. Who is to say, if you encounter someone or something that points you to God in Jesus Christ, well who is to say that you haven’t just had an encounter with God? Who is to say that God isn’t constantly trying to point us and direct us and guide us along the way? The way, of course, which leads to him. That is after all, where God is leading us. God is leading us to himself. God is pointing us to himself. Our opening hymn this morning reminds us, that this isn’t just about the past; it is about the future as well. When these arrows point us to Jesus, when they show us the face of God, they show us the Father who will someday hold us in perfect peace.
With shining face and bright array, Christ deigns to manifest today
What glory shall be theirs above, who joy in God with perfect love.