Last Epiphany.C.22 (with parts of 07)
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Italy. While there, my family and I visited the town of Ravenna, famous for its mosaics—a form of art where small pieces of hard material, such as stone, tile or glass are fitted together to make a picture or design. The place we were staying was right across the street from the Basilica of San Appolinare in Classe which contains some brilliant pieces of this form of art, one of which you can see on the back of today’s program.
If you take a close-up look at a mosaic, your face inches from the art, what you see are small tiles surrounded by grout—nothing remarkable. It could just as easily be a bathroom floor or a kitchen backsplash that is catching your eye. It’s only when you are able to step back from the mosaic that you can see the whole—the full picture, the panoramic sweep, as it were. The mosaics of San Appolinare in Classe are meant to be viewed at a distance—that’s the only way they make sense—that is how their glory is revealed. The perspective from which you are looking at these great works of art makes all the difference in what you see.
In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, we are gifted with another story about the importance of seeing—of beholding the full picture.
Here we are told that Jesus, along with the apostles Peter, James and John, went up on the mountain to pray. And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of our Lord’s face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. And suddenly, the apostles saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. They appeared in glory and were speaking with the Lord. This is a picture of Jesus as he truly is—as the Son of God, the Messiah. It’s the full picture—a gift of perspective—one which can be frequently missed in our normal day-to-day routines.
I find myself wondering what effect this experience had on the apostles. It seems to me that it is all too easy to focus on Jesus, Moses and Elijah in this moment, and miss what might have been going through the minds of Peter, James and John. Because, here’s the thing—they were friends and confidants of Jesus—they were invited to the mountaintop. They, too—babbling about constructing booths, cowering in fear or numbed by glory are part of the larger tableau. And, by hearing this story, by gathering together in prayer and praise—we are part of it as well. Each of us is a part of a larger whole. Picture it--the lives we live, and the work we do, forms an integral part of the larger plan of God. Imagine, what if we, both individually and corporately, are part of a much larger plan of the Almighty.
Mike Yaconelli in his book Messy Spirituality writes: “Moorhead Minnesota, the home of Concordia College, lies across the state line from Fargo, North Dakota, a very bleak part of the country (especially during the winter). All year, the community anticipates Concordia’s annual Christmas concert. Each December, a huge choir and a full orchestra give a musical performance in the concert hall of the college.
And every year, as the musicians practice, the people in the community create a unique background for the concert—a one-hundred-by thirty-foot painted picture. It takes some time. Beginning in the summer, about six months before the concert, the community begins a new design, rents an empty building, and the painting begins. Hundreds of people, from junior high schoolers to senior citizens, paint the pieces. They paint by number on a large scale design comprised of thousands of tiny pieces. Day after day, month after month, one little painted piece at a time, the picture on the design gradually takes shape.
When everyone has finished painting, an artist goes over the entire creation, perfecting the final work of art. When the work is completed, it is placed behind the choir. It has the appearance of an enormous, beautiful stained-glass window.
The weekend of the concert, those people who helped to paint the design, arrive early, along with their friends and neighbors. Throughout the building you can hear people whispering, “See that little green spot below the camel’s foot? I painted that.”
Every year in the middle of the summer in Moorhead, Minnesota, thousands of unknown, ordinary people paint what appear to be tiny, insignificant tiles. Six months later, the result is a spectacularly beautiful masterpiece.
The work of the good people in Moorhead, Minnesota—this, in essence, is our work as well. What you and I might do on a daily basis may seem painfully small and insignificant—being kind to a grouchy neighbor, helping a child complete their homework, praying for the sick and dying, praying for the people of Ukraine. It may not seem like much on the surface; but placed into a larger perspective, what we do each day is of infinite worth and significance. Like the artist in Moorhead, Minnesota, who goes over the final work of the volunteers who created the mosaic, finishing and perfecting their work—this, in essence, is what God does with us, and with what we contribute to the Kingdom of God. Through Christ, God perfects our offerings, and makes them glorious. No work on behalf of Christ, is of such small significance that it is not of value. All of what we do and pray—all of it, is made into something magnificent through Christ.
Here’s the catch. You and I, we do not have the capacity in this mortal life to stand back and see the full picture. Yet, I believe there are moments, mere instants in time, such as that which was gifted to Peter, James and John, where we might catch a glimpse—a momentary unveiling of what the larger picture holds. And those are glorious glances into the truth of our reality. Imagine, we are each pieces of a larger picture, who, working together with God, creates a masterpiece. We are part of the design of God, with each and every one of us forming an integral part of the whole. A full picture, which lies in the future for us to behold. In Jesus’ name. Amen.