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Rise And Have No Fear

Matthew 17:1-9

The Rev. Jon Roberts

6 March


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Rise And Have No Fear

Mosaic portrayal of the Transfiguration of Christ, 6th C.
Basillica of SaintApollinaris, Ravenna, Italy

Come and walk with me a while;
Up the mountain, about a mile.
Through the cloud and through the skies;
Look upon me with your eyes.
The voice of the Father says, "Behold my Son.
I am well pleased with the work he hast done."
Moses, Elijah, they all are here. Go back to the valley,
"Rise and have no fear."[1]

If you drive about two and a half hours south of Venice, Venice, Italy, that is, along the Adriatic coastline, you're likely to arrive in the city of Ravenna. It is an inland port, with a large canal leading straight to the sea. You will find the Basilica of St. Apollinaris and park your car. With a sense of simplicity and purity about it, you marvel at the archways and granite columns, with stained glass and walls covered in mosaic portraits. At the far end, past the pews, past the choir, past the altar, is the rounded aspe, the ceiling vaulted as a dome. There you stand, looking up and behold the scene. A blue circle, the sky, with a golden cross surrounded by stars, in the middle. Underneath, a shepherd, Apollinarius, who tends the sheep, grazing among the trees and the fields. Left & right, are two people: Moses & Elijah. Above, a single hand reaches down: it's the hand of God. Blues, greens, gold and reds bring the scene into full color. It is the portrayal of the transfiguration, and it is unlike any other you have seen. In this one, the Son of God is seen only in the icon of the cross. There is no corpus; no body; just a small face in the center of the golden cross, set in the sky. How do you interpret this? Why does one feel a sense of awe when they look up and see it? Is this what Moses saw on Mt. Sanai before given the ten commandments? Is this what Peter, James and John saw on Mt. Tabor before seeing the vision of Christ returning?

St. Thomas Aquinas calls this occurrence, "The Greatest Miracle"; the miracle that creates awe and reverence within us is not because we only see it; it's because we feel it. Something we cannot explain but know exists. This mosaic was put in place, one piece at a time; Painstaking work by Christians of the 5th century. It's still there today.

Now walk with me a while, northward across the alps, seven hundred miles. Here is where you will find the setting to a contemporary portrait; One that symbolizes the essence of the miracle in which I speak. It's a place seen in a movie, no less. In episode seven of the movie, "Band of Brothers", the 101st airborne hit the breaking point during its European campaign in WWII, as they come out of these Belgium woods.[2] Surrounded at Bastogne during a harsh winter and under relentless attack by the Germans, they are now on the move toward the small town of Foy. Being led by an incompetent 1st lieutenant, they began to question his leadership and are caught in a severe firefight. The lieutenant completely froze up. They were now helpless and being picked apart. They needed someone to provide a miracle. As the Germans were moving their heavy guns in place, a lone figure, another lieutenant was sent out. Running over the field and by all his men; Running straight into town and straight through a confused enemy; His objective was to get across the main wall and link the other company to their cause. The American troops watched in disbelief with his heroism. But as one Sergeant reported, "The miracle wasn't that he reached the wall, crossed over and got to the other command. The miracle was that he came back for us." To have left them, they would have had to dig in. To return, he called them to improvise and to overcome.

The miracle in the transfiguration, wasn't that Jesus reached up to heaven, crossed over and got to the Father. The miracle was that he came back for us. To have left the disciples, they would have had to dig in, to build a booth, a foxhole in which to defend. But to return, he called them to improvise and to overcome. They would not behold a king with vast armaments to combat the Roman empire nor the rigid Pharisaism. They saw Jesus in a new light. With Moses and Elijah giving him credibility, they beheld the new commandments. With the voice and the hand of God giving him credibility, they beheld God's Son. At first Jesus was a special teacher with healing effects and sage wisdom. Now he was truly the Messiah.
Many times in our life we yearn to hear God's voice; For him to say, "Here it is. The answer you've been searching to find." He is always leading you. The problem is we freeze up and dig in. He sometimes has to get you above the clouds and get you out of the valley for a brief time to understand. But on the mountain we cannot stay. We tremble with the thought of returning to our daily routine. Whether it be chaos or doldrums in our soul, he is the lone figure. The greatest miracle is that he came back for us through the cross. "Rise, and have no fear"

Don't dig in and don't freeze up. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by asking God for forgiveness. Allow yourself to volunteer more to follow him, even when, especially when, he asks us to carry our cross. That cross may be your health, your work, your family or friends. It is painstaking work but take it up, and be transfigured yourself. The cross is about sacrifice. It's something the world doesn't expect. It's the valley.

So what do you do?

Come and walk with me a while,
Up the mountain, about a mile.
Through the cloud and through the skies,
Look upon me with your eyes.
The voice of the Father says, "Behold my Son.
I am well pleased with the work he hast done."
God's Holy Spirit will be with you; He is here.
Go back into the valley,
"Rise and have no fear."

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Matthew 17:1-9
[3] 2001 Band of Brothers, produced by Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg

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