Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beauty of Holiness

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Lent - March 20, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Beauty of Holiness

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. Matt. 17:2

Lent and spring coincide. I was thinking about this as I marveled at the explosion of buttercups, the bright white flowers of the Bradford pears, and the purple and pink tulip trees. And the forsythias are leading the way as their brilliant and bright yellow bushes of sunshine announce that spring is near. The hidden beauty of plant life is coming into full bloom, and it never disappoints me.

Soon the dogwoods will follow - bursting in living color and filling the air with their intoxicating perfume. Just think. All of this life lay dormant through the cold, dark days of winter. Now the trees are promising to be clothed again. The limbs that survived the winter and early spring storms are reaching higher than ever - soon to be a refuge for all who will seek the shade of their leaves.

It is a time of transformation. Dormant plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs are blooming again, transforming yards and gardens into picturesque scenes - inviting us to have hope and to persevere. We seek to be transformed by the disciplines and promises of Lent. Sometimes we become dormant in our faith and in our witness to love. But the seed of God's word is in us; the life of Christ is ours by baptism. The practices of Lent help us to embrace truth and to be transformed by it. By the time we celebrate Pascha, we want to be bursting with the fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

Do you remember Moses, whose face glowed with the glory of God? Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai, listening to God and receiving from God the two tables of commandments, written by the finger of God. As Moses descended his holy mountain experience, God's light remained on Moses' face. The people requested that he place a veil over his face; they were unable to endure the glory that rested on Moses' face. The light that enveloped Jesus and shone without restraint from his face and clothing came from Jesus; the beauty of holiness - an adornment we receive when we put on the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism.

This distinction concerning Moses and Jesus is important for two reasons. First, as Paul explains, glory shone from the face of Moses; yet it was a fading splendor. Commandments written on tablets of stone was the beginning of holiness. Second, Paul states that in the new covenant of the Spirit, God's words are written on the tablets of our hearts. And through that greater dispensation of the Spirit, all of us, like Peter, James, and John, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are changed into his likeness; we become the face of Jesus. (2 Corinthians chapter 3)

It is important to remember how Peter understood seeing the Lord Transfigured. Peter's initial response was to memorialize the experience; "Let's erect three tents, Lord. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." That intention, though honorable, missed the message of the moment. At that moment, the Shekinah, a bright cloud indicating the fulness of the presence of God, settled upon Peter, James, and John. Out of the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." It is this voice that compelled the inner circle of Christ's closest disciples to fall down in adoration of him who is the beauty of holiness.

It is this voice that inspires us to give heed to the Son of God's holiness. For like his Father, Jesus is holy. And he who calls us to himself does so to invite us into the fellowship of holy love - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this majestic experience that Peter reflects on about 30 or 35 years after the fact. For example, it was not fallacious, ingeniously devised fables that drove the first Leader of the Church in his preaching and missionary efforts. Nor was it for pious fiction that the Apostle Peter embraced his own crucifixion. No my friend, it was love for Jesus, the Savior of the world, who went about doing good, healing everyone oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Peter preached the power and coming of Christ who was revealed to him and James and John in the Transfiguration, eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

And then there was the voice. Peter never forgot the voice that came from the Majestic Glory: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Peter explains, "We heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1:17-18)

On the holy mountain, Peter and his companions entered into the holy of holies and saw the glory of God. Today we enter into the same glory as we partake of Christ in this bread which is his body; in this wine which is his blood - the very presence of holiness. Amen.

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