St. Mary Nanoose Bay
February 23, 2020 Transfiguration Sunday
Today is Transfiguration Sunday and all the readings take us to mountain tops. In Exodus, the Lord invites Moses to come up the mountain and wait. The psalmist warns against those who would arrogantly put themselves high on the mountain which is, in fact, God’s holy mountain. And in Peter’s letter we hear again the allusion to God’s holy mountain.
And in our reading today from Matthew, we join the disciples who had been with Jesus the longest, Peter, James and John as they follow their leader up a high mountain. This passage stands in the middle of his Jesus’ ministry, the half way mark between Jesus’ teachings and healings; and his suffering and death on the cross. Today is a transition time for us as well - we are moving into Lent; the journey we begin with Ash Wednesday as we walk with Jesus towards his death and resurrection.
What a gift we are given today to help lighten the days ahead. Lent can sometimes be dark and confusing. So today we are given to hear the Transfiguration. And we witness something beyond explanation. All along, the disciples have heard and seen Jesus do amazing things. But today they see and we have confirmation that this amazing mortal is truly divine. And his holy connection is confirmed when the voice of God declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him and I am well pleased.” We’ve heard these words before when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. But this time there are a couple of additional words, God adds, “Listen to him.”
And what is it that Jesus says in this passage? What are we to hear? Overcome by fear, the disciples fall to the ground when Jesus is transfigured. He comes to them, touches them and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
We do not have to be afraid. For when all else falls away, when everyone else is gone, there will be Jesus; with us.
This is deep assurance indeed because we all have times when we are afraid. Times in our lives that are dark and confusing. Either we have no idea what’s going on – we are literally in the dark; or, we feel very alone in our pain or suffering. Sometimes the pain and loneliness and confusion overwhelm us; and we cannot see our way forward.
It can be important in these times of darkness, pain and confusion to remember the moments when we have seen glimpses of the light/the divine; when we have felt the presence of Jesus; or, when we have felt inexplicably supported and loved. Remembering these moments of grace help us get through the tough times. They remind us that we are not alone, we have not been deserted. Our feelings can betray us. God and the divine are more than what our 5 senses can know. Remembering these moments can remind us that Jesus is more than a friend or teacher. That Jesus is the embodiment of love that is there when all else falls away. Jesus shows up for us in the most unlikely places and times. And his light and love will see us through all the darkness and endings in our lives.
I had the experience of glimpsing the dazzling light and love of God years ago. That memory guides me through the moments when I forget about, or can’t see the divine in the everyday; when I see things the way the world does – as broken, tragic and finite.
It was a moment of witnessing a transfiguration – the reality of God – and it transformed me.
It happened about 20 years ago when my banjo teacher and friend, Becky, was diagnosed in her late 40’s with cancer. She was determined to survive and even when it was clear to those close to her that she was dying, she kept asking us to pray for a miracle – one she thought would look like recovery.
A couple of days before she did die, I found myself alone with her in the house (which was a miracle in itself because the house was always full of her friends and caregivers). . I sat by her bed and she asked me to play a particular CD. We listened with eyes closed. I became aware of a presence and opened my eyes. Becky was looking at me with love burning in her eyes. I was overcome with fear and looked away, heart pounding. Her body was emaciated, but light filled and surrounded her. I was terrified and at the same time, immensely relieved because I knew her miracle had arrived. She was in the presence of a great and burning light. And I was blessed to be in that presence with her.
That experience helped me go through Becky’s death and the grieving process afterwards in a profoundly different way than I expected. I received a precious glimpse of the divine that still gives me hope and helps me trust.
Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone what they witnessed until after he has died. Why does he say this? We don’t know, but I believe it’s because that experience was for them particularly, to carry then and maybe even him, through what was going to transpire in the difficult days ahead. Only after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, would it make sense to share.
We need to trust that the experiences we have of mystery or the divine are meant uniquely for us. God can speak in an infinite way to an infinite number of people through a seemingly single event.
I read an article once that said most people have had a mystical experience, a feeling or event they could not explain. People have dreams or seeming day dreams of loved ones who have died and hear them speaking in a way that seems as real as day. People have felt surges of energy when touched and prayed for by others. People intuit the experiences or needs of loved ones from a distance. My own father’s mother who lived in Holland came to “see him” in Indonesia to say goodbye so that when he got the cable saying that she had died, he already knew.
People don’t share their experiences of the mystical and wonderful for reasons that are sound and maybe not so sound. If someone is going to ridicule you or try and talk you out of your experience, why would you share it? But if you’re discerning, and share your experience with someone who is open and respectful, it can be reassuring and affirming, for the teller and the listener. Because sometimes when we share our stories, like the disciples did about their time with Jesus, we are reminded how awesome our God, our world, and ourselves are, and why we’re here. We remember that we too are beloved. That God is light and love. And that through seemingly every day experiences, and the extraordinary ones, we are given glimpses of the light…. either directly of God, or through the words and actions of our friends, neighbours, families and even strangers.
And so this coming Lent, we have the opportunity to remember and hold close the moments and experiences that remind us of the light, to be encouraged to bring forth the dark and shadowy parts of ourselves that need exposure to the healing properties of the light, and to remember to be light for each other.
This Lent, I invite you to open your eyes, ears and hearts to receive God’s love, trusting that even when you can’t feel it, God is near. And I invite you to be light to those who can’t remember, or haven’t known the light before; or who just need a light-bearer to walk with them for the time being.
Together, knowing we are meant to live in the light, we can walk with courage towards the suffering and death that Jesus knew and experienced. Together, we are not alone. Together, we share each others’ burdens, and together we will find the new life that is promised us.