This Sunday marks the final chapter of the season after Epiphany in our calendar. It is also the high-point of Shrovetide, that not-too-exact period of feasting and partying prior to Lent. It is wholly appropriate that St. Valentine’s Day falls on the Last Sunday after Epiphany this year.
This Sunday always features the Transfiguration of Christ for the Gospel Lesson, and this is a remarkably rich and wise way to end this chapter of the year. As we began this season with Theophanies – showings-forth of Christ’s divine nature – so we end it with this great manifestation of Christ’s nature and purpose. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all show the Transfiguration to be the decisive turning-point in Christ’s public ministry: here he moves from teaching and healing in the various small communities of Israel and “turns his face” towards Jerusalem, where his “exodus” is to be accomplished.
In the Transfiguration we see Humanity exalted and Divinity revealed. We see Christ’s purpose – the restoration of humankind and all Creation to its true dignity – made manifest in a delicious and tantalizing flash of pre-Resurrection glory. On the Holy Mount, the living and the dead, the Law and the Prophets, the old and the new are united in peaceful converse. So it is in every celebration of the Sacred Mysteries of Christ. So it must be in the ministry of the authentic Church. This is the Great Amen, the “so be it” we all crave; now, for a moment – but then, for ever. We bow down in awe, worshiping our God whose love for us is at once so cosmically overwhelming and yet so tender.
On this Sunday, we ceremonially bid “farewell to alleluia,” a word that we fast from for the season of Lent, though as the hymn we sing on this day reminds us this Alleluia is a “voice of joy that cannot die.” The children come to the altar and help me “bury Alleluia,” safe in its resting place until the Easter Vigil. It is a day of exaltation, but also of a reminder that this joy came at a cost, and that those who would follow Christ must “take up their cross also.” So, “let us for a while give o’er, as our Savior in his fasting pleasures of the world forbore” and for season bid farewell to the passing joys of this world, so that we can sing a deeper, more grateful Alleluia on Lent’s further shore.