February 26, 2017 Sermon
Foretaste of Passion, Foretaste of Glory
Since we all go through trials and ordeals in our lives sometimes, let me ask you; during your tough times, have you ever had something to hang onto? It is painfully difficult to go through difficult times without any hope to hang onto. In the movie, Shawshank Redemption, Andy is wrongfully accused of killing his wife and her lover, and goes to jail. Andy ends up staying in prison for almost 20 years, during which time he chooses different things to hang onto to stay alive, physically and mentally. When he was assigned to work for the pitiful prison library, he works tirelessly to turn it into a proper library by writing letters everyday to the government for support. When the government finally gives in and sends books badgered by his never-ending letters, Andy gets assistants to sort out and classify the books like a real library. He hung onto this project. One day, he plays the record of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro all over the prison so he and his fellow inmates can experience sublime beauty. He is put into a solitary for this offence, but the beauty of the music and the satisfaction that his inmates also experienced this beauty sustained him in the dark and lonely cell. The library project and the music incident both serve as that “something” Andy hangs onto to survive the dark times. Then once he starts planning his escape, the hope of freedom is what sustains him. Those of you who saw this movie, do you remember the scene where after crawling in the stinky sewer for five hundred yards he finally gets outside? Do you remember his joy as he takes off his shirts and raises his arms towards the sky in the rain? We all need to hang onto something to sustain us when we go through difficult times.
In today’s gospel text, Jesus and some of his disciples go up the mountain and experience something transcendent and glorious. The experience was so pleasant that Peter suggests that they stay there. Note that Jesus and his followers haven’t been exactly living a comfortable life; traveling and preaching the kingdom of heaven, helping the needy, and being persecuted by the Jewish leaders. We can understand why Peter would want to stay there. When we are cozy and comfortable, we don’t want to move, do we? But they need to go down the mountain and face the reality; the reality full of evil power where God’s people must be strong to stay faithful. Remember when Jesus was baptized he heard God’s voice claiming him to be God’s beloved son, and then had to be driven into the desert to be tempted? Well guess what? When they come down the mountain, they find other disciples unable to cure a boy possessed by a demon; this is why they couldn’t stay in the glory of the mountain and had to come down. Just as Jesus had to face the temptation in the desert after being pampered with God’s love and glory after his baptism, the glory and ecstasy in the mountain led Jesus, Peter, James, and John to the harsh reality where they must fight a spiritual battle against evil.
But there is something more to this; there are striking similarities between this transfiguration story and the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion in chapter 27. For instance, the expression that we translate as “overcome by fear” only appears in the transfiguration scene and the crucifixion scene in Matthew. Also, the proclamation that Jesus is God’s beloved son, three companions/ witnesses, link these two scenes together. From this evidence, we can conclude that Matthew intended to connect these two scenes. Do you find it odd that the glorious transfiguration scene parallels the crucifixion scene? Connecting glory and passion stories reflect Matthew’s Christology. Christology is ideas concerning Jesus’ identity as Christ, God’s Chosen One to save God’s people. This connection between Jesus’ glory and passion is a reminder to us followers of Jesus that glory as God’s people and the hardship we go through as God’s people are two different sides of the same coin. They are together in the life of Jesus; they are together in our lives as disciples.
Connecting these two opposite scenes is meant to prepare us for the passion and death of Jesus. There is no glory of resurrection without the suffering; but also there is no suffering without the hope of the upcoming glory. The glory in today’s story is a foretaste of Jesus’ passion and death, as the passion story is a foretaste of the future glory of resurrection. Likewise, for us disciples of Jesus, the sacrifices and dedication we make to follow the way of Jesus is a foretaste of the glory we will experience in God’s realm, and the joy and glory of being God’s children is a foretaste of the lifestyle of sacrifice and dedication we should lead.
Today is the last Sunday before the Season of Lent. At this time, it is important for us to remember that as in the life of Jesus, our lives as the followers of Jesus has two contradicting aspects; hardship and sacrifice, and joy and glory. There is no participating in heavenly joy and glory without a life of sacrifice and dedication. Whatever we give up to follow Jesus, whatever we sacrifice on the way, that is the foretaste of joy and glory of being God’s people. As we prepare to start our Lenten journey, let us remember that although our “kingdom lifestyle” of pursuing love, compassion, and justice requires a certain degree of sacrifice, it is the way to participating in the joy and glory of God’s kingdom. As we prepare ourselves for Lent, as we lay down something and make sacrifices to get closer to God during this Lent, and when you are faced with the temptations of the world, let the joy of belonging to God’s kingdom be the hope you hang onto.
Rev. Sunny Kim