In the last week we have seen the transition in the Western Christian liturgical calendar from the season of Epiphany to that of Lent. We shift from reckoning the days after the birth of Jesus to looking forward in time to the celebration of his death and resurrection. Following the last Sunday of Epiphany, Ash Wednesday begins the countdown of forty penitential days before Easter (there are also six Sundays during this time, but they are not counted as days of penitence).
On the Last Sunday of the Epiphany, the readings in the Episcopal Church have as their theme the Transfiguration of Jesus. Even though there is an official feast day in August for the Transfiguration in the Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican calendars, I always look forward to remembering this event at the end of Epiphany, as well as saying goodbye to the “Alleluia”, which we won’t say or sing again until Easter.
The Transfiguration commemorates the day when Jesus and some of his disciples went up onto a high mountain. Here Jesus’ face “shone like the sun” and he was seen talking with Moses and Elijah, and God’s voice was heard: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew Ch. 17). This event has much in common with Jesus’ baptism (see my posting earlier this year) in that God’s voice is heard, accompanied by dazzling light. For Christians, it is the “mountaintop experience” analagous to that of the Jewish people receiving Moses’ revelations from Mt. Sinai. And it is the kind of transforming experience that we need to keep before us as we enter the spare times of Lent, where we strip away much that is superficial in order to focus and prepare for the passion and resurrection of Christ.
At Compline on the Last Sunday of Epiphany we sang many wonderful Transfiguration texts. I hope you have time to listen to them all, but the one I kept singing to myself this week as Lent began was our hymn, “Christ on the mountain peak” (listen to it on our podcast, click the “Play” button – begins at about 9:44):
Christ upon the mountain peak stands alone in glory blazing;
let us, if we dare to speak, with the saints and angels praise him. Alleluia!
Trembling at his feet we saw Moses and Elijah speaking.
All the prophets and the Law shout through them their joyful greeting. Alleluia!
Swift the cloud of glory came. God proclaiming in its thunder
Jesus as his Son by name! Nations cry aloud in wonder! Alleluia!
This is God’s beloved Son! Law and prophets fade before him;
first and last and only One, let creation now adore him! Alleluia!
As we move into the season of Lent, let this be our prayer:
O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany, Book of Common Prayer).