As we gathered in our various congregations on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, contemplating moving into Lent, we might have been surprised to hear the Gospel appointed for that day was the story of the Transfiguration. “I thought August 6 was the Feast of the Transfiguration,” we might well say.
But upon reflection, not only is this a good lesson to launch us into Lent, it was an excellent lesson to set the stage for our diocesan Celebration of New Ministry which was held later that same Sunday. The emphasis of that celebration was not just to welcome a new bishop, but also to celebrate the ministry so many people exercised this past year and which will continue to be essential as we enter a new phase of revitalizing our diocese.
On that mountain of transfiguration, Jesus was not alone. In addition to the disciples, two figures from the past appeared with him – Moses and Elijah. Their presence lifted up the heritage that had shaped Jesus and gave substance to God’s claim that Jesus was the Messiah. These two foundations of the Hebrew faith confirmed and legitimized the work that Jesus was about to enter upon. But after that ceremonial appearance, they disappeared, leaving Jesus and his disciples alone. This symbolic act communicated that the destiny of Jesus was to set new patterns, new directions, steeped in the ancient faith and yet reshaped for a new time.
The disciples at first misunderstood this. They wanted to build booths so they could stay on the mountain, in close and intimate relationship with past history. But such a clinging to the past was not possible. The light which shined on the mountain was not just to light up the past, but was also a light to the future.
And so all of them, Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain and immediately went out to reflect that light. Everywhere they went and everyone they met was touched by that light and then reflected if further. As we gathered at Trinity Cathedral on February 14 to celebrate our shared ministry together, we also reflected that light.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has a rich history, and we will continue to build upon that history, but we also are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ upon new paths, in new ways, and (just as Jesus did) with a new understanding for the times in which we live. Like the disciples, there is a part of us that may wish to build booths and revel in the past. But just as Jesus did not let Peter, James and John do that, so he does not let us do it either. Because the light of the transfiguration touches us all, we are charged to carry on the work of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that He began.
As we move through Lent this year, may I suggest that we reflect on how the Light of the Transfigured Jesus continues to shine forth brightly in the world through us. May our prayer each day of Lent be that we might find a new way that day to reflect the love and grace of Jesus through our lives. The transfiguration is valuable only in so far as we participate in it. By hearing once again this powerful story on the Sunday before Lent, we are invited to participate fully these next 40 days. Here in Pittsburgh, we are especially called to do so. May you have a blessed and Holy Lent.
+Kenneth L. Price, Jr.
Bishop of Pittsburgh