Skip to content
In-person services are cancelled during any RED or GREY designation periods. Connect with us online during these times

The Transfiguration and the Cross, The Throne of God and the Electric Chair: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 14, 2021
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

I sat at my laptop early this week struggling with where to begin. In the background I had the stereo on, and found my thoughts wandering to the music. Eventually I realized that the song playing in that moment was “The Mercy Seat” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — you might know it, or you might know it from when Johnny Cash recorded his version of it on one of his latter day revival albums. It’s an amazing and frankly, terrifying song that seamlessly weaves together the scenes of a death row inmate being put into the electric chair, and God, sitting upon the heavenly throne. And by moving back-and-forth between the two seemingly so incompatible images of death and life, evil and good, vulnerability and power, the song — in a way that poetry and music can — reveals to us something of the mystery of Christ; something about God’s identification with the lowly; something about Jesus’s unconfused union of human and divine natures; something about the Cross. Good art does this.

That, I’d say, is what is happening in the gospel story we heard today: it’s a revelation to the three witnesses, and to us. It’s a revelation, and remember what I mentioned a few weeks ago, that Epiphany is about revelation (to the wise men, at the baptism of Jesus, and at the wedding at Canada). We clue into how this is a revelatory scene from how we’re on a mountain, like the mountain on which Moses met God in the clouds and received the Law. And how a voice comes from heaven, like previously, at Jesus’s baptism. And how Jesus’s clothes sparkle like those of the heavenly Son of Man figure described in the Book of Daniel. So Peter’s right, even if he doesn’t quite get it. “It’s good for us to be here…” Jesus has brought them here to show them something. They’re witnesses to a revelation of God. And while this is a unique revelation, like all revelations it is about the uncovering of something. It’s a moment of clarity, in which the truth that’s been simmering just below the surface becomes visible, if even for a fleeting moment. Maybe you can think of a time of revelation that you’ve experienced sometime in your life, when things “clicked.” When, like I described, the words of a song truly speak to you. Maybe you’ve had a revelatory moment at a wedding, or at the bedside of a loved one as they slip away. Moments when you realize what’s real, and what’s important. It even happens from time to time… at church(!). For me it happens when the words of the scriptures, the sermon, the hymns, and the prayers come together like a symphony. Or maybe you’ve felt it sometime, in the words of the confession and the absolution. Or at some other point where we realize that religion isn’t, at its core, about religion and ‘religious things,’ but about life. Life itself, in all its fulness, the good and the bad.

That’s what God’s up to here, showing Peter, James, and John that reality there just below the surface: the blinding magnificence of Jesus, this wandering teacher with sincere compassion, low tolerance for hypocrisy, a good appetite, and probably dirty feet. This is the new law-giver, they realize; and a true prophet; and more… Nothing short than the One after God’s own heart.

But importantly, if we zoom out a little bit, we realize that this revelation on the mountaintop is bookended by Jesus talking frankly about his coming death in Jerusalem. That’s what Peter doesn’t quite grasp, ironically shown in how he tries — literally — to grasp at this moment, in wanting to make huts for them, and the heavenly visitors of Moses and Elijah. He wants the moment to last. And sure, we’d all like to win the lottery. Not many people deliberately choose discomfort. We’re all pretty sick of death these days…

But that’s what God reveals here; that’s what Jesus does. Heaven is revealed here in the midst of the predictions of Jesus’s death. The resurrection only follows from the cross. Divinity and mortality are held together — distinct, but united. The death row inmate and the Creator of the universe. The electric chair and the throne of heaven. Jesus brings these together, and the disciples will continue to struggle to understand, at least until after he rises from the dead.

Each of us will struggle with this radical holding together of what reason tells us are opposites. And that’s the beauty of our faith: it invites us into a lifetime of wrestling with this mystery. At times we’re offered experiences of beauty and relief from the mundane. But rather than grasp at these fleeting moments, Jesus calls us to follow him to the Cross. To the reassessment of our values. And to the realization that life exists not as the denial of death, but in the midst of it. A mystery for us to contemplate on this high point at the end of this green season after Epiphany, and to continue to wrestle with over the forty days of Lent. Not to mention the long Lent we have been living these last eleven months, and will continue to live for some time. God holds together life and death. The Transfiguration and the Crucifixion. The throne of God and the electric chair.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter