We conclude the Epiphany season this weekend and so, believe it or not, this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season! So, I thought I may say a few things this afternoon which may help us prepare for a holy Lent – and I think our Lessons from Scripture provide a nice framework for that to happen.
I don’t normally title my sermons, but if I had to choose for this one, it would be “Silence, Scripture, and Sacrament.” Three ways for us to deepen our union with Jesus and spend these next forty days in the desert with him during the upcoming season.
The First Lesson is the wonderful story of the prophet Elijah being taken up into heaven “in a whirlwind” and the transfer of his authority to his successor, Elisha. Elijah himself had had his own encounter with the living God in “silence”, as you remember. Back in the First Book of the Kings Elijah had encountered God on Mount Horeb, not in the wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire, but “in a still, small voice” (or, as the better translations render it, “in the sound of sheer silence” – I Kings 19:12)
Now, Elisha is preparing to lose his master and the “lesser prophets” of the day keep asking him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master from you?” And Elisha keeps replying “Yes, I know; keep silent!” There’s something about “holy silence” in the face of the mystery of God which speaks more loudly than many words!
We need times of silence in our lives if we expect to be attentive to God and God’s direction. Silence is a rare commodity in our frenetic and fast-paced and noisy world. I expect it’s even difficult to come by here in your Community! So you have to seek it out.
Some people do it by sitting on their back porch on a spring day and sipping a cup of coffee; others by taking a walk; or simply turning off the radio or CD in their car on a long trip; some learn techniques of contemplative prayer and meditation which can help still the mind and deal with all the distractions which beset us.
I’m not sure it matters much how one finds times and occasions of silence. The important thing is not how it happens, but that it happens. And you need, at the very least, 20 minutes or so of uninterrupted silence each day. That’s so you can get beyond all those distractions, and really begin to listen for that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit within. As the first stray thoughts and wanderings of mind and temptations begin to assault you, during your quiet time, just offer them to God. Don’t fight them, but let them evaporate into the atmosphere as you settle deeper into the silence. Know that, in the deepest place within yourself, dwells the Spirit of the Living God. And it is with that Spirit that you seek to commune. This Lent, find some more time for Silence!
Secondly, spend some more time with Scripture. I know you hear it read here in Chapel twice a day, but you also need time alone with the Bible. The Bible is not a handbook with ready references and spelled-out solutions to all your problems or the problems of the world. But the Bible is an ancient and God-given library of wonderful stories and songs and biographies and letters and ethical precepts which document the history of Jews and Christians as they have lived out their lives over 4,000 years in relationship to the one, true God! Reading the Bible is like browsing through the family album – it keeps you rooted and grounded in your history…and gives context and meaning for the way we live our lives today.
Our Lessons for today are so rich! The preparation for the literal “passing of the mantle” from Elijah to Elisha in Second Kings. The great prophetic liturgy of Psalm 50 with the Lord coming forth to greet…and challenge…his people.
The powerful Transfiguration experience as recounted in the Gospel of Mark and then Paul’s great Epiphany message to the Corinthians, referring to that event, about the God “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!” Of course not everyone appreciates the power of these stories! Some of us have found reading the Bible pretty hard going, and not a little boring at times!
But that’s because we’ve perhaps never taken the time, or no one has ever taught us, how the Bible came to be written, how it developed, and the basic timeline of the historical events around which it revolves. That’s why it’s so important to use tools like commentaries or other Bible study guides, or get to a class or a conference where you can become more educated in your use of Scripture and in its understanding. That didn’t really happen to me until seminary. And it was only then that the Bible came alive for me. You don’t need seminary for that experience! This Lent, spend some time learning about…and from… the Scriptures!
Finally, this Lent, re-ground yourself in the mystery of Holy Communion, the Eucharist.
We don’t know precisely what happened on the mountaintop in today’s Gospel reading, that event we know of as “The Transfiguration.” But what we do know is that it was a very powerful experience for Jesus and his friends of “Communion with God.” Jesus, like Elijah before him, had gone up on the mountain to pray and the experience he had there was so intense that he seemed to his friends positively to “glow.”
I don’t need to tell this Community what that looks like! You’ve seen people glow with excitement or joy or enthusiasm for God. You’ve seen people so spiritually moved, by worship or prayer or some ministry opportunity that they seemed actually to be “radiant.”
That’s what happened to Jesus. And it’s probably happened to you as well! Or something very nearly like it.
Peter, James and John were moved by the same experience. They caught a vision of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, standing alongside Moses and Elijah and they heard what seemed to be the very Voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” And then suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, “but only Jesus.” Only Jesus! Well, I guess that would be enough!
You and I have the opportunity to receive “only Jesus” every time we come to this Supper, this holy Meal. The experience of Christians like us for over 2,000 years has been that, when we break the Bread and bless the Cup like Jesus told us to, and receive it in remembrance of him, that he is Really Present with us!
Not symbolically, or only in memory, or metaphorically present, but really Present! How could anyone who actually believes that ever miss Holy Communion (except in cases of emergency or illness)? It’s quite beyond me! So, this Lent, re-ground yourself in the mystery and the practice of the Eucharist.
Silence, Scripture, and Sacrament. Three ways to observe the great season of Lent. But, more importantly, three ways to maintain and deepen your living relationship with the God who alone can give you eternal life! Let us pray:
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Sun revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through (the same) Jesus Christ, our Lord…Amen.