“God Bids Us Welcome”: A Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday

The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am and 11:00am Rite II Eucharist services on March 3, 2019, being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Quinquagesima), at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28-36

Collect: O God, who before the Passion of Your Only-Begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His exodus, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”—Luke 9.29-31

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

The 17th century Welsh Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote these lines posthumously published in a collection of poems titled The Temple, one of Herbert’s most well-known works.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

John says that “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” (1 John 4.16) Furthermore, Paul says that in God “we have such a hope” and “should not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 3.12, 4.1) In Herbert’s poem we hear God call out to us, imploring us to abide in the love that is Himself.

But, like the lyrical voice, we, too, if honest with ourselves about ourselves, have felt or do feel unworthy of God’s love and to accept His invitation. Yet, in that very self-awareness God still comes, knowing that His love is the remedy for our shame. Though we are unworthy, God in His love makes us worthy to stand before Him. “You were a forgiving God to them,” says the Psalmist. (Psalm 99.8)

God’s love is seen in how He “bore the blame.” God through His Son Jesus Christ stretched out His arms on the hard wood of the cross that we might come into the reach of His saving embrace. God brings us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, dazzling in white light on a mountaintop in the darkness of night, reveals Himself as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” (Luke 9.35) Jesus says to us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28) In Jesus’ call is grace and favor, access to Almighty God.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a significant event. Peter, eight verses before, confessed Jesus to be “the Christ of God.” (Luke 9.20) He with James and John today see Jesus revealed as the Christ in His full glory talking with Moses and Elijah about His exodus. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9.22) In this is Christ’s future and our future, pointing to His blessed passion and precious death on the cross, His mighty Resurrection from death and glorious Ascension into Heaven, all through which Jesus will procure for us and all who confess His Name the benefits of eternal life in His everlasting Kingdom. “We all,” Paul says, “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.18)

Thus, in the dazzling light of Jesus Christ three days before Lent, we see that which was, is still, and forever shall be: God’s love that bids us welcome. And in Christ we see that what we shall be, that when He comes again in glory, we seeing Him as He is will be transfigured from glory to glory. Today we see a glimpse into our future that has been made possible by God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

We have been made worthy guests because Jesus is the Christ of God. He was in the beginning with God and is God; “all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Christ our Lord and Savior shines in the darkness and darkness has not and cannot overcome Him. By His Incarnation, “we have beheld His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten Son from the Father.” (John 1.1-3, 5, 14) This is the Christ come from God who takes away our sins, takes our hand and bids us to follow Him. In the light of Christ is life that is really worth living.

Therefore, like Paul, “I [have] decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2) God invites us up the mountain to see His Son in the fullness of His glory and back down to share this sight with others, proclaiming, “This is God’s Son, His Chosen; listen to Him!” This is an important and timely message heading into Lent, calling us to focus our hearts and minds and to cede our wills completely over to Jesus whose own life, death, and Resurrection breathes real life into us. This Jesus is the “mighty King, lover of justice, [who has] established equity; [who has] executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Psalm 99.4)

What we today see on the mountaintop, have seen throughout Epiphany, and will see throughout Lent and Holy Week is Jesus’ Gospel message and His passion, death, and Resurrection all as crucial acts for our salvation. Today, we see a foretaste of Easter. For in the dazzling light of Christ is the summary of it all: Christ will die, but not forever; He will rise again and live! And “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6.8, 10)

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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