Rabbi Cohen was tasked with teaching a class at the Beth Israel Hebrew School and he decided to discuss the sanctuary’s new magnificent stained glass windows, and tried to draw out a message for the children. “Like the pictures in the windows,” said Rabbi Cohen, “Each of you represent one window, but together as a community we make a whole picture.”
The Rabbi continued, “You see each one of you is like a little pane in the greater stained glass window.” And then pointing to each child, he said, ”You’re a little pane. And you’re a little pane. And you’re a little pane. And…”
It took Rabbi Cohen a few moments before he realized why everyone was laughing so hard.
Well I know for a fact, we have lots of little panes around here! The images in the stained glass windows are truly beautiful, along with all the other art that can be found within ours and so many other churches. That art is not only represented by stained glass windows, but also the carvings we have, the architecture of the building, the hymns and music, and the voices that sing. It has long since been agreed that the artist, as well as all of us, participate in the act of creation. Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Artist wrote, “With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power.” And so the artist creates.
A form of art that is unique in the churches is the icon. They depict Our Lord, Mary, angels, the Saints, and other images that reveal the holy, and they are considered windows to heaven or doorways to the sacred. They are “written” instead of painted and are designed not to be perfect renditions of the subject, but a means to help you enter into the divine. It is there that not only are you looking in, but, through the eyes of the one depicted, you are also being seen and loved. It is a mystery, but you are not alone in your time before the icon, and you are with the other in worship of God.
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Ash Wednesday is only a few days away and then we begin our Lenten journey, which provides an explanation as to why we always read of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on this Sunday, because there are some remarkable similarities, although dramatic in contrast between the Transfiguration and of Our Lord and the trials and crucifixion that he will soon experience. So today, I would like for you to use the image of the Transfiguration as an icon in your mind. I want you to see the Transfiguration, but I also want you to see through it as a window, and see through the Lenten journey all the way to the events surrounding Good Friday. What will you see?
At the Transfiguration: “Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain.” (Matthew 17:1) On the night before he was crucified, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane and took these same three. He asked them to watch and pray. They slept. (cf. Matthew 26:36-40) They ran away when trouble arrived. (cf. Matthew 26:56b) They saw the Son of God in his glory at the Transfiguration, but when he needed them, they slept and then they deserted him. But the similarities don’t end there. Jesus was revealed in glory, but on the hill outside of Jerusalem he was revealed in shame. His clothes became “dazzling white” (Matthew 17:2); he was stripped naked and his clothes were gambled for. (cf. Matthew 27:35) Moses and Elijah stood beside him (Matthew 17:3), two thieves were crucified next to him (cf. Matthew 27:44). The “bright cloud overshadowed them” (Matthew 17:5); at Golgotha, “darkness came over the whole land.” (Matthew 27:45) Peter wants to build lodgings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so that they can stay there forever (Matthew 17:4); “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’” (Matthew 26:73-74b) God the Father declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5); “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matthew 27:54)
The glory of God is witnessed in the Transfiguration and the glory of God is witnessed in the crucifixion, it takes one to explain the other, and this is a great mystery. This is why “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
This icon, this window of the Transfiguration pointing towards the crucifixion allows us to witness the power of God and the weakness of his humanity, the glory of his reign and the humility of his servanthood, and ultimately demonstrates the intense, never failing love of our God for us. In the Transfiguration, God says, this is who I am, but this is who I will become for you, so that you might be with me where I am: a man, beaten and bloodied, dead on a cross.
That is what we see in our mental image of the Transfiguration, but remember the eyes in the icon? Not only are you seeing, but through this window into heaven, you are also being seen. Not only are you seeing Christ, but he is seeing you. He is seeing you as he is transfigured and he is seeing you as he is hangs upon the tree, crucified. What does he see? Shall I tell you? Oh, I know what you think he sees, but that’s just the demon whispering in your ear. What Jesus sees when he hangs upon the cross, when he sees you, is his greatest artistic creation. A work that surpasses all others in beauty. The object of his intense love. You may be a “little pane,” but you are His pane and his masterpiece. This, he says from the mountain of the Transfiguration and from the cross, is for you. Get up and do not be afraid. Follow him. Listen to him.
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, You made us Your children and called us to walk in the Light of Christ. Free us from darkness and keep us in the Light of Your Truth. The Light of Jesus has scattered the darkness of hatred and sin. Called to that Light, we ask for Your guidance. Form our lives in Your Truth, our hearts in Your Love. Through the Holy Eucharist, give us the power of Your Grace that we may walk in the Light of Jesus and serve Him faithfully. Amen.