Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Between Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8)
Last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, a celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ in his unveiled glory. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a forty day journey with Jesus in the desert, where he was led by the Spirit, tested by the devil and ministered to by angels.

It is an interesting transition between these two days. On the “Mount of Transfiguration,” the glory of God was fully unveiled in Jesus the Messiah, and it shone brilliantly. “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). Suddenly, Peter, James and John saw him in a way they could not have done before. To use the words of John 1:18, they beheld his glory, “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus, in his humanity, was reflecting the glory of God, as we all were created to do. In Genesis 1, on the sixth day of creation, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). We were created to represent God on the earth, to reflect his glory to the rest of creation.

Of course, we have done a miserable job of it. It is hard to reflect the glory of God when he are in rebellion against him. As Paul reminds us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Like mud on a mirror, sin terribly obscures the divine glory we were created to reflect.

But now on the mount, here was Jesus manifesting the true role of humanity, revealing the dazzling brilliance of God. Moses and Elijah were with him, representing the Law and the Prophets. Peter wanted to make three tabernacles — one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. But he completely missed the point. Not knowing what to say, he blurted it out.

However, God had his own idea for a shelter and overshadowed Moses and Elijah with a cloud — they were not to be the focal point but were there to direct all the attention to Jesus. That was their role in the history of Israel and in the Old Testament, and that was their purpose here. Then the voice of the Father spoke concerning Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

We remember all that on Transfiguration Sunday. But then, just a couple of days later, we turn our attention to Ash Wednesday, when we remember our humanity, and the divine glory we have obscured by sin. We are the dust of the earth, for that is the stuff from which God formed us. But our rebellion against God and our failure to reflect his glory has reduced us to ashes.

So Ash Wednesday is a time for repentance. But it is also a time for embracing God’s forgiveness, symbolized by receiving the sign of the cross made upon our foreheads with ashes. And it is a time to consider again, as we enter into the journey of Lent, how God desires to reveal his dazzling glory to us and through us if we will but let him. For we are also the breath of heaven, for it was God himself who puffed into us the breath of life. Then at the end of this journey, suddenly we will look around and no longer see anyone but Jesus. And we will be glad.