Sunday, March 2, 2014

Those Transfiguring Ch-Ch-Changes

We've reached that last Sunday after Epiphany which could alternately be called, "The Last Sunday Before Lent."  I'll talk about Lent at another time, but right now I'm focused on what are the traditional readings at this particular Sunday.  This is the time when Jesus goes up the mountain with his disciple friends, Peter, James and John.  A light shines down upon Jesus, making his appearance a dazzling show of brightness  and with him appear Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Peter, who I always think of as the most well-meaning extrovert, thinks this is the time to start talking about booths and isn't great that we're here with you, Jesus.  That's when the cloud of God surrounds them and booms out a message:  This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!

Peter stops his rambling.  And the three disciples fall to the ground.  The Scripture says they were afraid, and who can really blame them?  I tend to think of this particular fear as one that is akin to an unanticipated and life altering event happening to a person.   It's a mixture of first shock and then that bone-rattling fear as the body attempts to shed itself of the intial trauma.  Jesus goes to them and tells them not to be afraid, and peeking up from under their eyebrows, they see him, and nobody else.  And he warns his friends not to talk about what they've seen until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Wow!  Let's pause here.  Take a deep breath.  Because that's some freaky stuff that just happened!

This moment on the moutain sounds very similar to the time way back at the beginning of this "after Epiphay" season, where the readings were about Jesus' baptism. Jesus comes up out of the Jordan River and the light of the Holy Spirit descends like a dove as the booming voice says, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!"  This time, however, there is the additional command to "listen to him!"  Between these two events, in the telling of Jesus' life by our evangelists narrators of the synoptic gospels, Jesus was driven out into the desert where he would face the temptations of all those things we are always tempted by: a chance to have power, a chance to have lots of material wealth, a chance to be immune from any danger.  We aren't privvy to know Jesus' inner struggles as he is in a place of going one-on-one with these various temptations.  But we can imagine, from our own experiences, what that had to feel like because we've all had to make choices, and face the possibility that this choice or that one would be a betrayl of who we are.  So, in this desert experience, Jesus went through some refinement and found his complete reliance on God.  Now, he has his disciples with him as he ascends the mountain, and we have a moment in which not only is Jesus bathed and glowing in brilliant light, he's got Moses, who represents the Law, and Elijah, the Jewish prophet, in communication with him as we have the cloud repeating that phrase from his baptism.  It's almost as if this moment is Jesus' confirmation.  And the command to the other three is for them to listen to him.

Like at baptism, we don't usually have a bright light beaming on us with a cosmic voice announcing us as the Beloved.  Same thing with confirmation.  But what is happening here, as I read it, in this transfiguration is what happens when we move into closer contact with the Divine.  For Jesus, it is the last piece of opening him to his own Divine essence and the confirmation that he is the one who is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  For the disciples, it is a moment of change as well.  One can only imagine that witnessing this event, and living through it, dramatically altered their own understanding of who their teacher was.  They are commanded to "listen to him!"  And Jesus then says to them, "Do not be afraid," a mantra he will have to use over and over all the way through to the end, and even when he is resurrected.  Do not be afraid of this change in yourself.

The same thing can be said to us now.  I know I have had many changes occur in my life recently that have given me pause and stirred up my world.  And I have had my own mountain-top moments, too, that have left me a little shaken and moved me from what I thought was absolute knowledge of myself to a place of realizing that there's a lot I don't know yet.  But as revelation occurs, as my understanding broadens and deepens, the key is to approach the changes without fear.   

This is probably why the lectionary diviners always want us to hear this transfiguration story as that last bit before we reach Ash Wednesday and Lent. This is the season of changes.  Do not be afraid.

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