The older I get the more aware I become of how my life, my way of being, is filled with contradictions. It is neither all darkness nor all light. It is both at the same time. I have said things I wish I could take back, made decisions I regret, and done things that don’t reflect who I want to be. In the darkness of what I have said, decided, and done, however, a glimmer of light always shines, illuminating what could have been and holding out hope for what can still be.
I suspect each of you could say similar things about your life. Contradictions seem to be part of the human condition. One moment we are kind and gentle and the next harsh and mean spirited. We are filled with compassion for one person and indifferent to another. The contradictions of our life are revealed in those moments when we say, “I don’t know what came over me. I’m just not myself today.” They are the cause of sleepless nights, hurt feelings, and the reason we confess our sins each week. They lie at the heart of all the times we’ve said, “I should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve.”
The contradictions of our life are diagnostic of living a veiled life. It is as if there is a veil covering the original beauty with which we were created and hiding the light that already and always shines within us. On those days we are alienated from our true selves and estranged from God and each other. The world is dark and we walk amongst the shadows. Other times the veil is lifted and we see the glory of the Lord. We speak and act differently. We get back up despite our failings. There is a brightness to our life and world. We feel alive, authentic, and at home. Our words, decisions, and actions come from a deep place of illumination and knowing. We radiate with integrity and wholeness. On those days we echo Peter’s words, “Master, it is good for us to be here.”
Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his church, knows something about contradictions. One minute he is walking on water and the next minute he is sinking (Mt. 14:28-31). He confessed Jesus to be “the Christ of God” (Lk. 9:20) and he denied him three times (Lk. 22:54-62). Today on the Mount of Transfiguration he is veiled by the weight of sleep and unveiled in wakefulness. He says it is good to be there and he doesn’t know what he is saying. His life is a picture of contradictions and so is ours.
Ours is both a veiled life and an unveiled life. They are concurrent realities for us all. The Mount of Transfiguration rises between those two realities. It is the intermediate realm that holds in tension the contradiction of light and darkness, unveiling and veiling.
So every year on this day, the last Sunday after Epiphany, the Church sets before us the story of the Transfiguration (Mt. 16:28-17:9; Mk. 9:1-9; Lk. 9:28-36). It is the hinge between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent.
The season of Epiphany reveals what an illumined and unveiled life looks like. It is the ongoing manifestation, revealing, showing, and making known that divine life and presence fill all humanity and creation. Every one of us is a magi. We are carriers of the treasure, bearers of Christ’s light, and intended to live unveiled lives. Epiphany culminates in the Transfiguration.
On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus did not become something he was not already. Rather, Peter, John, and James saw him for the first time for who he always had been. The veil had been lifted. They saw the light of his divinity shining in and through his humanity, the same humanity he shares with you and me.
The Transfiguration says that we are all, every one of us, luminous beings. The difference is not that some are luminous and others are not. The difference is between those who know it and those who do not, those who live unveiled lives and those who live veiled lives.
To the extent we do not know or trust our own illumination, our luminosity, we are living veiled lives. We live, act, and speak in ways that are less than who we are intended to be. Sometimes our life is veiled in our failures, our fears, our forgetting. Other times the veil of grief and despair, ignorance, or the choices we have made leave us in darkness. Regardless of how our life gets veiled the light of divinity is never extinguished. It has only been covered up and we are in need of Lent.
Lent is the season of unveiling and the Transfiguration is our final preparation for Lent. The light of Transfiguration sends us into the darkness to discover the ways in which our lives have become veiled. It is our guide and companion. It lights the way and holds before us the hope and reality of an unveiled life. The veils of our life can only be removed when we first know our life to be veiled.
If you want to know the ways in which your life has become veiled go to the places of contradiction. Search out the places of struggle and conflict. Look for the ways in which you are living less than who you really want to be. Those are places of veiling. We all have them. Even as the veil hides the light it also points to and marks the light’s presence.
Behind each veil, hidden in the darkness, is the light of Transfiguration calling us into the fullness and realization of who we have always been. As each veil is pulled back we become more fully and authentically ourselves until one day, with unveiled faces, we see the glory of the Lord and recognize ourselves.
This sermon is for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, and focuses on Luke 9:28-36.