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February 27th, 2022

I know that for many of us, it is mighty hard to centre ourselves in that moment on the mountain that is described in our gospel this morning. Our thoughts, understandably, are with the people of Ukraine, now at war, a sovereign, democratic country invaded by a tyrant. This is the truth of the moment - a truth we knew already existed; a truth revealed by President Putin’s terrible and evil actions this week. And now the world is transfigured by a terrible truth we don’t want to be real but have to face. That is the epiphany of this moment. It is upon us. So it is hard to travel up that mountain with the disciples, hanging out with the ghosts of old prophets; and yet, as we might find when we get up there, it is even harder to leave the safe space of that mountain. There is always a lesson in the gospel, even for us, who seem so far away, living in a different time. What is an epiphany? It is a sudden insight or change of perspective that transforms our ideas of who we are and the meaning of our lives. There is no going back from an epiphany: there is only the before and the after. The transfiguration of Jesus is the epiphany that we have been waiting for all this church season, the place to which we have been heading. There is no going back from this moment; there is only the before and the after. In our gospel, the disciples are hanging out with Jesus on the mountain, enjoying bit of a relaxation away from the crowd. In part one of the epiphany moment, we hear that while Jesus is praying, he shines bright and his appearance changes. But Peter is maybe enjoying the leisure time a bit too much. He is already thinking of setting up permanent residence on the mountain. Cue part two of the epiphany: the voice of God: “This is my Chosen,” the voice of God says. “Listen to Jesus.” We might note that the story of transfiguration appears to happen in those two parts: the first, during a moment of introspection and prayer that is perhaps meant mainly for Jesus himself, to clarify who he is to God and the world. And the second, a booming voice that must have rung in Peter’s ears for days – for ever – a voice that feels meant for the disciples – and for us - to clarify who Jesus should be for us: the chosen voice of God on earth, whose gospel of tolerance and kindness and other-centredness we should heed. As with all epiphanies – this one, famous ones, our private ones – they don’t come out of the blue. They are truths that always existed but were waiting for us to discover. An apple falls from a tree, and Newton discovers gravity; but gravity existed before Newton figured it out. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy was a good guy before Elizabeth Bennett realized it. The reluctant hero of popular culture was a hero well before they accepted the idea themselves. And Jesus, well we know, Jesus was chosen from the beginning. Jesus was always chosen by God. The moment on the mountain only reveals what was always true. The lesson of transfiguration Sunday, the last lesson of epiphany is a reminder to us to learn from those epiphany moments. They are truths we have already created, or that already existed, waiting to be found and faced, waiting to guide us forward. Because epiphanies reveal the truth, they are neutral in themselves. Sometimes they force upon us a truth we don’t want to accept but need to face. Waking up to Russia’s invading Ukraine was, for many of us, a moment of that kind of before- and-after clarity: the truth was always there, but we didn’t want it to be true; we wanted war to be peace. But it isn’t. We are in the changed afterward, and, whatever happens, we cannot go back. The disciples wanted to stay on that mountain, and who could blame them? Down on the ground, in the real world, were crowds of needy people. The pharisees were waiting there to persecute them. Down on the ground, in the not-so-distant future, was the cross at the very end of the road. And yet, they could not stay. They knew they could not stay. They had experienced an epiphany - a truth they had always known revealed in the transfiguration of Christ. That was now the only truth in the world that mattered to them, and it would shape them forever going forward. There is another important part in this story for us to remember as well. And it is this: Christ was not actually transfigured in that moment on the mountain; he had always been chosen by God. A truth was not created; it was revealed. It was the same for the disciples and it is the same for us: we are also chosen by God; we are also worthy. The epiphany - the transfiguration - happens for us when we realize it to be true. That moment happens at different times and in different stages in life - if we are open to it. As we leave Epiphany and begin the journey into what appears will be a hard and difficult, sorrow-filled Lent, what is the lesson to take from Transfiguration Sunday? When we are lucky, the truths revealed in an epiphany are easy and wonderful - revelations that lift life. But also when we are lucky, epiphanies show us the lie that couldn’t last and the truth we needed to hear; they become a new guidepost for us. Transfiguration Sunday is both: a revelation to lift our spirits – Jesus is chosen by God. And a guidepost to send us forth: Jesus is chosen by God. In the choosing of Jesus, so we are chosen. We cannot stop every war, we cannot feed everyone who is hungry, we cannot outsmart every false prophet who seeks to destroy for their own gain. But we can come down from the mountain and help where we can. The transfiguration of Christ in the end was not about God’s choosing Jesus; this was always true. It was not about God’s choosing us: this was also always true. The transfiguration is ultimately about this one important, this one essential follow-though. It reminds us again of what is true, and then sends us forth, down the mountain, into the mess of the world, to do our best to heal it. Amen.

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