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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

In the Veil of Human Flesh

Think about our Gospel readings since Christmas. First we hear about this miraculous birth to a virgin woman. As a child, we hear Jesus is not just wise beyond his years, he seems utterly focused on a mission that no one else really understands. Most recently, he has cast out demons from people who were seemingly plagued by these things, twisting and distorting their bodies and minds. I said a couple of weeks ago that as we walk along this road with Jesus each week, we’re being exposed to more and more evidence of the claims made to Mary and then the wisemen by angels: this one is the expected one of Israel, the King of kings, the one promised by God. 


The fascinating thing of course is that we are in fact walking along with - by all Gospel reports - a real human man. And yet, and yet, we get these incredible stories of miraculous healings, casting out of demons. So one day Jesus, knowing their hearts and minds, asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Based on what they must have been hearing from people around them, they said there were various speculative answers – John the Baptist who has been raised, Elijah, again, raised from the dead, or maybe he’s another prophet. Jesus then presses them for their own responses: “But who do you say I am?” 


Peter takes the lead saying: “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” How fantastic this would have been right? You’ve come to set things right. You will deliver us from evil and suffering. You will rid the world of evil. But almost immediately Jesus dashes their optimism and excitement.. For the first time (it will happen three times altogether) he tells them he was going to suffer greatly, be rejected by the leaders of their own people, be killed and then rise again after three days. 


How could the Messiah die? How could their own leaders reject, even kill the Messiah? How could God allow this to happen? Could this Jesus even be from God? So Peter says: “This cannot happen to you!” And how does Jesus reply to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” And while they are recovering from this, Jesus continues by saying that not only will he himself suffer but, if they want to be his disciples, they will have to be ready to walk the same road. “Those who wish to follow me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”


Enter our reading from today. The disciples may have still been in shock, likely they were disillusioned. They needed some good news, more understanding, maybe even more revelation of who this Jesus is. Just a week after Jesus tells them he’s going to be rejected and executed, he takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves, just as God had taken Moses up Mount Sinai, and Elijah up Mount Carmel, 


There before Peter, James and John, Jesus is suddenly fully revealed. Jesus, the carpenter with a strange penchant for teaching with authority and performing what appear to be miracles, is suddenly revealed in his fullness. His exterior appearance, his humanity was a veil hiding something more extraordinary–his divinity. So on Tabor, God pulls back the veil. Moses and Elijah appear. Why? Because their appearance with Jesus tells us something about who Jesus is: he is the culmination, the fulfillment of the law, which Moses represents, and the prophets, which Elijah represents. That is, Jesus is the fulfillment of everything God has written in the Old Testament Scriptures, the only Scriptures the disciples and the early Church had.


But that wasn’t it. Then a cloud came down and covered them. In the OT Scriptures, a cloud descending means specifically the presence of God himself (think of the hymn we have at Advent that marks both Jesus’s incarnation and his second coming: Lo he comes on clouds descending). And then out of the cloud came a voice: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” So God the Father affirms what Jesus will tell the disciples: I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Thus saith the Father: “Listen to him.” Listen, obey. Obey even when he speaks words you do not like or understand. It is a confirmation of all that has gone on before – the real identity of who Jesus as the fulfillment of all that God has said and done recorded in the Scriptures, and so too then, we can be assured of Jesus's profession concerning what will happen to him and what is expected of them as his followers: if you want to gain your life you must be ready to lose it. 


In Christ, brought through death into life as we mark in our baptisms, we are granted a share in God’s own life. More than that, we are granted the possibility of bearing that divine light to a world of darkness in our very human, very everyday lives. We do this through faith, receiving the Spirit's sanctifying guidance as we follow Jesus up our own mountain in the darkness of our brokenness, and sin. We are washed and made new in the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that we might be fitted in our wedding gowns to Christ himself, in his likeness, to live our lives as children of God our Father. 

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And if we persist in faith, remembering that "the light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it," we can also proclaim that no matter what struggles we might endure, the same human man, Jesus, who offers Himself on the cross for our sake, is the same divine Lord of one being with the Father and Holy Spirit, and who shares all that He has with us, so that we might become through grace all that He is by nature. That is the promise of God that you and I are called and empowered by God, to manifest in this world. AMEN


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