The Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, St. Luke’s Church, Springfield

“[Moses and Elijah] appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31).

“Departure” not “death”: this is the word that our Gospel writer Luke uses to describe Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem, the task he was meant to accomplish, as it says in our Gospel today. In our reading we see Jesus at a crucial point in his life, about to turn his face to Jerusalem for the journey that will fulfill his ministry. Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John (the inner circle of his disciples) up the mountain where he is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appear, and the glory of the Lord is revealed. A voice is heard from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk. 9:35).

In this ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel Jesus foretells his own death not once but twice, underlining the significance of his journey. “Let these words sink into your ears” (Lk. 9:44), he tells them. In this same chapter Jesus also asks the disciples, first, who do the crowds say that he is, and then, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for them all, “The Messiah of God” (Lk. 9:20). All of this reminds us that it is not Jesus’ teaching or his miracles that are crucial to his mission, but his identity, who he is and what he does in Jerusalem. Here in the story of the Transfiguration he reveals who he is. Here in the ninth chapter he invites the disciples to take up their cross and follow him.

Why “departure” and not “death”? The word “departure,” used to describe Jesus’ mission, is the same word used to describe the exodus from Egypt. You all know that story, how the Jews went to Egypt in the time of the great famine, and there became enslaved. You all know the story of how God sent Moses to lead the People out of slavery and into freedom in the Promised Land. God accomplished their liberation through mighty acts that overcame the power of Egypt. He led the People through the waters of the Red Sea and through Moses gave them the Commandments on Mount Sinai. Many times on their journey they wanted to turn back. They were fearful and faithless, but in the midst of all of this God was faithful to them.

In this word “departure,” our Gospel is supplying a theological framework for us to understand the significance of what Jesus is doing in his journey to Jerusalem. It too is a departure from the land of slavery, from the sinful Egypt of this world, and a journey to the land of promise, the kingdom of God. This is where God is leading us, if we will take up our cross and follow Jesus on the way. In this journey we travel through the water of baptism, which cleanses us from sin and makes us free to serve God. God acts in our life, over and over again, with mighty deeds that speak of God’s love and care for us. When we are fearful and faithless he is still faithful to us.

Here in the story of the Transfiguration, God once again brings us up a mountain, into the cloud, just as he did with Moses, and speaks to his People. Once again he sets a trajectory for us that leads to freedom. The Law, symbolized by Moses the Lawgiver, and the Prophets, symbolized by Elijah, witness to Jesus, as the inner circle see the glory of the Lord. The journey that Jesus and the disciples take to Jerusalem leads to the promised land of freedom, the place of their “departure.”

Today we celebrate a step on that journey that we take as disciples, as we celebrate the confirmation of several members of St. Luke’s Church. We too are traveling to the kingdom, and this celebration is a significant marker for us. People are reaffirming their baptismal vows and stepping forward in faith. They are receiving the laying on of hands and the strengthening prayer of the Church, as we gather to join in this celebration. God is giving grace through our prayer and the laying on of hands: grace to live this life and to follow through with the commitments that they are making.

Grace is given here, but grace is already present, in moving you to appear today and to take this step. It’s a significant moment for you and your friends and family members but also a significant moment for St. Luke’s Church and for the Diocese of Tennessee. Each of us is invited to reaffirm our own baptismal vows. We are surrounded not only by the prayers of this congregation but also by the prayers of the whole diocese, as folks throughout Middle Tennessee remember this congregation in their prayers today. We too are on the way to freedom, walking with Jesus as his disciples, taking up our cross and following him.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee