RCL Year C Last Epiphany
Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, II Corinthians 3:12–4:2, Saint Luke 9:28-36

On recent Sundays, after setting the Altar, the books for the service, and the offering plates, I have been rereading C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, that satirical book of letters from an old devil to his nephew, a young devil, advising him how to tempt and to prevent his patient from becoming more than a Christian in name. At one point the old devil advises, “Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. … As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.”[1]

The old devil is telling the truth without exaggeration or irony. We are eternal creatures in spirit who have a limited time on earth. This is what the liturgy of Ash Wednesday proclaims when we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[2]

Our Lenten journey, then, if we undertake the journey with the intention to make progress as Christians, is part of Screwtape’s undulation, of troughs and peaks, from which in this life we never escape. We have and we maintain our hope of glory, but presently in this physical life, we shall not attain unto it.

The Epistle today encourages us to persevere in our hope of glory when we hear, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”[3] We persevere through the undulation, through the troughs and peaks, through our human limitations, because of the revelation of Jesus’ face, in Transfiguration, in miracle, in healing, and most importantly in his love for us that gives us the opportunity and the desire to be transformed “into his likeness from glory to glory.”[4]

For, as the old devil begrudgingly admits, God really does want to fill the universe with little replicas of himself—creatures whose life will be qualitatively like his own. God wants servants who are transformed into his children whose wills freely conform to his. God wants a world full of beings united to him but distinct from him. And as we make our way, God is pleased with our effort to become his and like him even if we should stumble along the way.[5]

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (1942; New York: Harper Collins, 2001), page 37.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 265.

[3] II Corinthians 3:18.

[4] The BCP, page 217.

[5] The Screwtape Letters, pages 38-40.