For centuries, Christians have combined the celebration of Palm Sunday with the reading of the Passion Story. I did not grow up in a church that did this. We had “Hallelujah’s” on Palm Sunday as Jesus rides triumphally into Jerusalem, and then “Christ is Risen Indeed” on Easter Sunday. In between, there was nothing. But our tradition is to set together these two sets of narratives to drive home the stark reality of how easily we humans can go from ‘Hallelujah!’ to ‘Crucify him!’ within days. The reading takes about 25 minutes. It is the only time each year that we read the entire Passion Story, and so well worth listening to or watching.
Today we celebrate the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), where Jesus reveals his divine nature to three of his disciples. This event, which in our church we celebrate with the colour white, falls after a period of ‘ordinary time’ in the church calendar, which we celebrate with green, and Lent, which we observe with purple. This celebration is thus well placed as a link between a period of ordinary growth in the church and period of intensive penitence and critical self-reflection.
Furthermore, the transfiguration is located in our church calendar almost exactly at the midpoint between Christmas (two months and two days ago) and Easter Sunday (10 days less than two months from now). Each of these events – the birth of Christ, the transfiguration of Christ and the resurrection of Christ – are moments of God’s self-reflection, or epiphanies. God shows God’s self for who God is, in these key moments in the life of Christ.
Christmas focuses on the incarnation of God the Son in the form of the human Jesus. It is God’s emptying of God’s self – the kenosis – in which God immerses God’s self into human life and comes to live among us as one of us. It is also a story of the birth of a child – of hope, of new life, of a baby. The Christmas self-revelation emphasises the light and life of God in our midst.
The transfiguration shows us that Jesus is more than ‘just’ a teacher, more than ‘just’ a healer or miracle worker. He is revealed in all his divine splendour, as the Son of God, even more, as God the Son. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus. Most of the time it is hidden from sight. But in the transfiguration, Jesus kind-of drops his human skin and reveals his divine nature to Peter, James and John. The transfiguration self-revelation emphasises the power and divine majesty of God in our midst.
Easter focuses on the discipline and love of Jesus for his Father, and for humanity, leading him to walk a path that he knows will lead to his humiliation, suffering and ultimately, his death. He knows this is a path of suffering, but he also knows that it is a path towards the salvation of all of humanity. Jesus’ Easter resurrection is God’s self-revelation of profound and reckless love for humanity.
These revelations of God’s self – of who the triune God truly is – as our focus as we enter Lent. God is the child that brings life and light. God is the divine being, filled with power and majesty. And God is our saviour, filled with love and compassion. It is into this God, this Christ, that we immerse ourselves during the coming period of Lent.
Today we celebrate Easter Sunday – the culmination of weeks of Lenten fasting and penitence, and a week of daily soul-searching services. On Good Friday, we watched our Lord’s life slip away on the cross and experienced darkness fall over the earth as the Light and Life of God was snuffed out. And then we waited, through Friday and Saturday – wondering, what might happen, how might this all turn out.
It is relatively easy for us, because we are so familiar with the outcome of the story. But for those first believers – such as Mary and the other women in Mark 16:1-8 – it must have been surreal and terrifying. The unthinkable had happened. No wonder Mark relates the confusion of the first women to arrive at Jesus’ grave, and their fear and silence after encountering what they thought was a young man (but probably an angel).
For us, though, we now understand and appreciate the resurrection of Christ as the fruit of Christ’s triumph over death, of God’s generous and complete forgiveness of sins of all humanity, of a profound and utter reconciliation with God, and the restoration of Christ as the light of the world. God gifts back to humanity the very one that humanity sought to extinguish, as a sign of their joint unconditional and extravagant love for humankind, and indeed the whole cosmos.
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!!
In Romans 6:3-11 we gain further insights from Paul into the ways in which our salvation follows the same path as Christ’s death and resurrection. In our baptism, we die to self in a watery grave; only to be raised again to new life in Christ, a life filled with Holy Spirit. In our service today we baptise little Onyedikachuckwu Christian Okafor – a visible sign of God’s salvation – and renew our own baptismal vows, said originally on our behalf as infants, and today renewed freely by ourselves.
Lord, you have nourished us with your Easter sacrament. Fill us with your Spirit and make us one in peace and love. We ask this through Jesus Chris our Lord. Amen.
The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!! Alleluia!!!
During this past week, we have confronted the dark side of humanity and of ourselves. We have recognised that it is our sin – each of ours – that contributed to Christ’s death. Humanity, in its arrogance, attempted to murder God the Son! What greater sin can there be? One might imagine that a God of justice would wipe the earth clean.
Instead, God forgives humanity. God returns to us the very Son that we murdered! What greater forgiveness can there be? All the rest of our sins are caught up in God’s great forgiveness of this greatest of all sins. All God asks of us to acknowledge our sin – Father, I am sorry; please forgive me. God says “Yes!” to humanity. God says “Yes!” to maintaining and enabling fellowship with each of us.
Moreover, Christ’s triumph over death, he rising from the grave to new life, is God’s “Yes!” to life and “No!” to death. Particularly during the COVID-19 plague, which has already taken the lives of over 100,000 people, we are in need of this reassurance that God has already triumphed over death. COVID-19 will do its worst, but it will die, and humankind will live. God will triumph over death.
this night explodes with the radiance of the risen Christ;
set us ablaze with the power of your love
and propel us into the world
to live and proclaim the gospel of the living Lord;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Painting of The Resurrection, by El Greco, 1597-1600. From here.
Featured image: Resurrection of Christ, by Raphael, 1499–1502. From here.
Painting in the YouTube video: Resurrection of Christ, by Rottenhammer (1564–1625)
Jesus provides us an example of faithful journeying along the path that God had set him, a path which lead into and through suffering. He follows this path, trusting that God is present and enabling, and believing that it is a path that leads to glory.
Jesus encourages us also to follow such paths, to understand the meaning and value of hardship, and to trust that through these experiences we will reap a reward of honour and glory.
Such insights are particularly meaningful as we journey through Lent and approach Easter, when Jesus pays the ultimate price for our sin.