While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed

By The Rev. Javier Garcia 

As Episcopalians, we live in the overlapping seasons of liturgy and nature, each of them sharing a common theme. This should not surprise us, given that our liturgy is always a hymn of praise to this world’s Creator.

Think about the Epiphany season we are now concluding. What began with the Feast of the Epiphany, with its star in the heavens pointing shepherds and wise men to a baby, now ends with the Transfiguration, with Jesus’ own face shining like the sun. In marking the season between these events, we saw how the light of God’s revelation in Jesus becomes clearer and clearer to the disciples, until on a mountaintop it became obviously clear.

So, I’m not going to preach the standard sermon about our gospel story this morning. The one about the significance of Moses and Elijah who first appear with Jesus on the mountain as they discuss His coming passion and departure in Jerusalem, and then disappear before the disciples eyes, leaving only the dazzling presence of Jesus behind to confirm that he is the Son of God and the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Law and Prophets (whom Moses and Elijah represent).

Rather than repeat the whole story I would like to talk about on what happens to both Moses and Jesus when they subject themselves to the transfiguring light and love of God in prayer. What happened to them – especially Jesus — that applies to us?

We just heard how Jesus went up the mountain to pray with Peter, James and John. By the way, prayer is a constant theme in Luke’s gospel, where we see Jesus frequently getting away to pray. While on the mountain together in prayer, the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and everything about him was transfigured and dazzled with light!

Moses also went up the mountain, as we heard in our first story. When Moses came down, the skin of his face shone because he had been praying and listening to God. His facial expression was radiant because of the radiance imparted to him in the presence of God.

Moses may have been unaware of this at first, but everyone else could see it plainly, so plainly that Moses had to wear a veil in talking to the Israelites! Peter, James and John could also plainly see the radiance that shown in Jesus face and eyes, too.

Just like we can see it plainly in each other. We can plainly see the difference, whether our co-worker or friend or spouse (Spaus) or child’s facial expression is dull, or whether it is bright. Our face and eyes tell the story of the health of our bodies and souls. And when the soul’s fire has cooled and needs to be restarted, the eyes are the windows that tell of the need. (Practice of look at the people close to you on the eyes, what do you see? We have forgotten how to look at people in their eyes but they can tell us a lot of things)

How do we go about restoring the light of our facial expresion? What practices do we have? What form of prayer transfigures us?

That seems like a crucial question for all of us who get weighed down at times by the pace and the challenges of life. We put out a lot of energy trying to live our lives of commitment in a complex world and do the right thing, but we tired out, simply move through the paces with disinterest, or become we are so self-absorbed that we think it’s all about us. So, it’s important to know when our energy and purposes have dissipated, when our fires and passion have cooled down, when a spiritual intervention is needed. When that happens, it’s extremely important to know what works to restore the light of our facial expression. Because knowing it, and practicing it, makes all the difference.

We all need to know what spiritual practices work for us in our everyday lives. What works for you? What do you do to restore the light of your facial expression? It doesn’t have to be exotic or difficult…just reliable.

For instance, Jesus didn’t talk much about the spiritual value of exercise like walking (he didn’t worry about getting his ten thousand steps a day), or getting fresh air. He didn’t have to because he and the disciples got plenty of it in those days as they walked throughout Galilee, but I bet he’d recommend it today!

This shouldn’t be too difficult for us who are blessed to live here where is very easy to find a  beautiful hill and some woods… we have the possibility to take a bike path and do other kind of outdoor exercises. I’m always amazed at how the light of my facial expression and good humors are better after some exercise like walking with friends or Gambit. I had a meeting with the bishop some months ago. I got to her office (you know, very nervous) and the first thing she said to me was: Let’s go for a walk. You don’t know what a beautiful walk we had!! First, I felt more relax and second, I have never walked around the Cathedral, have you?

No doubt why Jesus and his disciples were walking all over Palestine, they probably slept pretty well, too. But getting good sleep, getting Sabbath rest, taking your days off, getting vacation time, or retreating to the wilderness or mountains (as Jesus did) are all reliable ways to restore the light of our facial expression.

What transfigures you? Is it eating healthy, breaking bread and sharing with friends, or our beloved communion as the Body of Christ? Is it reading scripture, or poetry, or some other inspiring works? Is it enjoying human creativity through art and music and theatre?

All of these practices can transfigure us in body, mind and spirit. But among this busy world, there is really nothing quite like some form of prayer, meditation, quiet, and stillness to transfigure us and restore the light of our facial expression.

Before I go to bed, every night  I have my moment of prayer, which then ends with 5-8 minutes or more of silent meditation: Sometimes a form of centering prayer reflecting on a brief passage from scripture. Sometimes just a silence that deepens beyond passing distractions to become an encounter with God’s real loving presence.

What about you? Are you one of those who read the day by day? Or, do you read Compline on P. 127 in the Book of Common Prayer each night to help put the day behind and embrace the night in peace? Do you have a bible app that allows you to pray as you wake or go to bed? Are you one of those who loves to take home a Lenten daily meditation booklet like the one our welcome team can give you today at the end pf the service?

Prayer helps us integrate our religious experience and beliefs about the world in daily life. Daily prayer in its many forms reminds us of our principles and convictions and gives us inner strength and grace to face life’s challenges. It reminds us about the importance of compassion, forgiveness, faith, hope, and love.

Prayer makes us less self-centered and happier people, and as a result, it makes the world a better place. When we quiet the mind and subject ourselves to daily prayer, it is easier to release those negative states of mind like anxiety, fear, anger and  hatred.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things we’ll notice in reading Luke’s gospel is how often Jesus prayed for spiritual direction and renewal. All the critical moments in his life are followed by prayer. All his powers come through prayer, and it almost seems that he’s the only one with a practice of prayer in Luke’s gospel. But if you continue reading both books of Luke: the gospel and the Book of Acts, you can see that after Jesus has departed, the disciples finally get it!

As we turn now from Epiphany towards Lent, beginning this week with Ash Wednesday, I invite you to take up a practice of some daily form of quiet prayer and stillness that can enlighten our souls, restore our countenance, strengthen our hearts, and embolden our ministries. Just a little in the morning or a little at night can make a big difference! And always pray when you’re facing a challenge!

If you’re uncertain about where to begin, try the brief daily devotions for individuals and families on p. 137 of the BCP that helps us center ourselves in prayer.

Remember, too, that beginning one week from this Ash Wednesday that means on March13, many of us will gather here each Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m. for a meditative Eucharist as we reflect and discuss our Lenten theme this year: The Woman of the Passion.

So as we prepare to walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem this Lent, let’s get ourselves to the mountain in prayer! AMEN.