Last Sunday after Epiphany – Transfiguration
February 14, 2021
Happy Valentine’s Day! So what is valentine’s day anyway – where did it come from? Some say that Valentine’s day finds its origins in third century Rome. One of the versions is that it was an early example of an organized draft dodger conspiracy. A priest named Valentine in the 3rd century A.D. is supposed to have married couples in secret so that the men could avoid being called to service in the military. This kind of begins the link between Valentine’s day and Romantic love; although getting married to dodge the draft may not necessarily be the most romantic reason to do it.
Even if this story is true, the holiday did not take off right away. In fact, there is no history of it being celebrated until 1100 years later near the end of the 14th century…. so it’s not likely to be completely or may be even at all historically accurate – but it’s a good story to tell.
Other stories linked to the origins of Valentine’s day to a Roman holiday celebrating the coming of spring. In this version it involved a lottery, pairing off men and women to “celebrate” spring. In the 5th century when Christianity had just become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, you might see why the pope and others would want to change that custom to one of Romantic love – of a much more innocent and more “acceptable” variety. Also, Valentine seems to have been a popular name in those days and there are several martyrs and priest whose names could have been associated with the feast.
In modern times the practise of celebrating this day came into popularity in the late 1800s in the USA. Like many of our modern “Christian” holidays it quickly became commercialized. We know it today in images of romance, cupids, & doves. We give and receive cards, roses & chocolates. The practise has been moved beyond romantic love to friendship, giving Valentines to celebrate these friendships. Kids in school, in normal years, would exchange them with each other.
Does this Valentine’s day with the notion of Romantic Love relate at all to today’s feast of the Transfiguration? Well, what about this link? We sometimes fall head over heels in love – knocking all sense out of our heads in the process. Our loved one becomes transfigured in our eyes. They grow more beautiful than they really are. They glow and they make us glow. They seem to have no faults at all. They are the centre of our world. We do really silly things (sometimes even stupid things) to show our love to them and to the world – like sky writing or proposing on TV! Lots of songs and stories, movies and tv shows are written and produced about this aspect of romantic love.
Later on, hopefully as romantic love grows deeper and matures – the loved one is once again transfigured. We may get a more realistic view of her/him – but one that can be all the more glowing for that new depth and maturity. In really good relationships this aspect of love continues to grow as the person is transfigured and the true light surrounding them grows stronger and steadier, less blinding, as our eyes adjust to the reality and the beauty of the other.
Today’s is one of those blazes of light and love for the apostles who accompany Jesus to the mountaintop. It’s not likely a demonstration of romantic love, but I compare it to Valentine’s day all the same in that it is both a revelation of Jesus’ own glory, and a revelation of Jesus’ not only as the beloved one of God – but as their own beloved. The apostles are falling into true love with Jesus and their eyes are opening to who he really is and to what & how much he means to them.
“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Being frightened by the intensity of love is not unusual. Love can cause us to react in unexpected ways and do or say things that appear really out of context – like the head over heals silliness I just mentioned. What in the world could Peter possibly mean by building dwellings for Jesus, Elijah & Moses. How could they be built? Why? What use would they have? There is not much sense in his proposal, but the awe of the moment of revelation makes him terrified and it is too much for his brain to process. Even the Gospel writer – and those writers ALWAYS looked for meaning and sense in the apostles words – he couldn’t couldn’t figure out a sensible reason for it. Peter was just ‘off his head’.
This experience of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one step along their journey – one important momentous step which bowls them over the way any revelation of love can bowl anyone over.
This week we are coming to the beginning of Lent. I don’t remember ever considering how this Gospel could possibly be leading us into Lent – at least not in the context of Valentine’s day. However, Lent is a time of transformation, a time of re-examining our relationship with God, with Jesus, with the role of God’s guiding Holy Spirit in our loves and in our entire life. It is a time, in a very real sense, of falling in love with Jesus all over again – or maybe even falling in love with Jesus for the first time. It is a time of growing deeper into the relationship which can bring us to the top of a mountain and see his glory. It is a time which will take us into the fullness of his sacrifice in suffering and death and his triumph in Resurrection. It is a time in which we can grow into the kind of people who can love him and each other as he loves us – a time we can fall in love with each other as his brothers and sisters. It can and should be a time in which we do silly things for that love – like giving till it hurts, or forgiving when others would simmer in thoughts of hate and revenge, or of asking for forgiveness when we have no right to ask. It is a time when building a dwelling for Jesus may not seem that silly – if that dwelling is within us, if that dwelling is our church – the parish of Blandford.