Sunday, 3 March 2019

Images of Christ and
masks that hide us in
the presence of others

A mask for the Carnival in Venice … do we hide our personae behind masks before other people … before God? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 3 March 2019, The Sunday before Lent,

Transfiguration Sunday


11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 99; II Corinthians 3: 12 to 4: 2; Luke 9: 28-43

An icon of the Transfiguration in the Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday is in the Sunday before Lent. In the Calendar of the Church of Ireland, we mark this as Transfiguration Sunday. But, in the past, it was also known as Quinquagesima, and in some places it is also known as Shrove Sunday, just as Tuesday next is known in many places as Shrove Tuesday.

The Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia) takes place at this time of the year, each year. This year, it began two weeks ago [16 February] and it ends at midnight on Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

The Carnival in Venice is known everywhere for its elaborate masks. And it grew in prestige and developed in its revelry in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the point that it became a symbol of licence and pleasure.

Mask-makers (mascherari) had a special position in Venetian society, with their own laws and their own guild. But the masks allowed many people to spend a large part of the year in disguise, hiding their secret lifestyles. When he occupied Venice, the Emperor Francis II outlawed the festival in 1797 and masks were strictly forbidden.

It was not until 1979 that the Carnival was revived in Venice. With it came the revival of the tradition of making carnival masks, and one of the most important events at the Carnival is the contest for la maschera più bella (‘the most beautiful mask’).

So often, we all have our own masks. We are afraid that others might see us or get to know us as we really are. We hide behind a persona, which is the Latin word for a theatrical mask. We are worried, ‘What if someone saw me for who I truly am?’ ‘What if they came face-to-face with what I am really like?’

Lent is a good opportunity to come to terms with our true selves.

This morning’s readings all invite us to a mutual face-to-face encounter with the living God.

In our first reading (Exodus 34: 29-35), God is revealed to Moses, who reflects the glory of God on his face and has to veil his face from view, to put on some sort of mask in case people see what is now truly like.

Saint Paul says in our second reading (II Corinthians 3: 12 to 4: 2) that because of Christ we no longer need a veil or mask to screen us from God, for we see God in Christ, and through Christ God sees us in our full humanity.

In Christ, there is no need to hide any more or to feel any shame (4: 1-2).

In our Gospel reading (Luke 9: 28-36), the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, ascend the mountain with Christ, and in the clouds they see who he truly is: he is the God of Moses and Elijah, and the vision is so dazzling that they are dazzled and overshadowed by the cloud.

When they come back down the mountain, like Moses, there is a great crowd waiting for the healing that restores them to their place in the covenant with God.

The original Greek word for Transfiguration in the Gospels is μεταμόρφωσις (metamorphosis), which means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. In the epistle reading, Saint Paul uses this same word (μεταμόρφωσις) when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18), he uses the word ‘icon’ of Christ.

The Transfiguration reveals not just who Christ should truly be in our eyes, but who we should be truly in God’s eyes. It is a reminder of our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation – to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.

The Transfiguration points to the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation shall be transfigured and filled with light.

In the second part of the Gospel reading, we have a second story that may not seem to be related to the first story. But it is oh so intimately connected with it.

The Transfiguration is not just an Epiphany or Theophany moment for Christ, with Peter, James and John as onlookers. The Transfiguration is a story of, a miracle that reminds us of how God sees us in God’s own image and likeness, sees us for who we are and who we are going to be, no matter how others see us, no matter how others dismiss us.

So it means, quite naturally, that Christ sees the potential of the child, the only son, of a distressed father, a troubled and paralysed child. Christ sees the boy’s potential as the image and likeness of God and restores him to being seen as such.

When we become adults, do we love the child we have been in our childhood?

When we become adults, many of us are messed up and mess up in life, not because of what is happening in the present, but because of what has happened to us as children in the past.

Are we going to blame our problems in the future on what happened to us in the past?

In secular life, there is a temptation to accept our human nature as it is now. But the Transfiguration of Christ offers the opportunity to look at ourselves not only as we are now, but take stock of what happened in the past that made us so, and to grasp the promise of what we can be in the future.

In the present and in the future, can we take ownership of who we have been as a child. Do we remember always that we are made in the image and likeness of God?

As Saint Paul reminds you, you are an icon of Christ.

We need no masks, no personae, in God’s presence. God sees us as we are: made in his own image and likeness, sees us for who we were, who we are and who we are going to be, no matter how others see us, no matter how others dismiss us.

No matter what others say about you, how others judge you, how others gossip or talk about you, how others treat you, God sees your potential, God sees in you God’s own image and likeness. God sees through all our masks and sees an icon of Christ. God knows you are beautiful inside and loves you, loves you for ever, as though you are God’s only child.

You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud’ (Psalm 99: 7) … ‘and they were terrified as they entered the cloud’ (Luke 9: 34) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 28-43 (NRSVA):

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ 41 Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

The Transfiguration … an icon in the parish church in Piskopiano on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: White

Penitential Kyries:

Your unfailing kindness, O Lord, is in the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
and your justice as the great deep.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

For with you is the well of life:
and in your light shall we see light.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
Give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Christ will transfigure our human body
and give it a form like that of his own glorious body.
We are the Body of Christ. We share his peace.

(cf Philippians 3: 21, 1 Corinthians 11: 27, Romans 5: 1)

Blessing:

The God of all grace,
who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith:

Hymns:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord (CD 20)
634, Love divine, all loves excelling (CD 36)
374, When all thy mercies, O my God (CD 22)

Souvenir masks from a stall in Venice … do we hide our personae behind masks before other people … before God? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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