Sunday, February 3, 2008
Transfigured, Challenged, Changed
When we are faced with unexpected, holy events, we sometimes let the mask slip and show a bit of who we are. I remember when my first-born was delivered. Pamela had a very difficult, long labor, and then there were signs of fetal distress. The doctor decided that the situation had become serious, and recommended a fairly hasty ceasarean. Suddenly, we were in a operating room and I was speaking to my wife while a screen was being erected, blocking our view of what was really major surgery performed on an anesthetized but fully-conscious person. Things had become very serious very quickly. I was concerned for the safety of my wife and my child. I prayed, I tried to be “in the moment” and supportive…but I was scared. After what seemed like a very short while, I heard a child’s cry. My first thought was: “now this is a very serious and tense situation; WHO LET A CHILD IN HERE?” Only after I had completed this thought did I realize just how idiotic it was.
When St. Peter uttered his famous request to “build booths” as a response to the Transfiguration of Our Lord, it was only natural. He was doing what the religious tradition recognized as an appropriate way of marking the holiness of the event; he was honoring Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But, he was also wrong.
I say this because of a basic rule in prayer: when we are in direct contact with God, it is always a sign of our having lost the point, our being unfocussed when we start multi-tasking in prayer – or when we think about praying while we are praying. As with any face-to-face contact with someone we value (or any one to whom we desire to show common courtesy), we don’t talk on the phone with someone else at the same time. St. Peter is in effect attempting to do this, and it means that he is unable to experience the event as fully as he might. As the Gospel according to Mark says, “he did not know what to say” in his fear. Just as with my son’s birth, he spoke out of his “true self.” With me it was kind of petulant protectiveness. With St. Peter it was a religious impulse to “do the right thing” and enshrine the event.
The Transfiguration means many things; it forms the great transition from Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing in the hinterlands to the final stage of ministry in Jerusalem. It is a foretaste of his Resurrected glory, and deep mystery showing forth Christ’s lordship over the living (Elijah) and the dead (Moses), as well as his being the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Beyond this, we experience the Uncreated Light of God in the brilliant light issuing forth from Jesus, and the majestic words of the Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” It is an overwhelming disclosure, a profound experience of the Divine in Jesus.
But it is also a challenge to us as disciples to stand before our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the moment; not to multi-task, not to think about Jesus when we are in his presence and should simply listen, learn, and love. We cannot control or enshrine the Holy; we can only receive the gift on God's terms and then live it out. When we do, we experience the profound peace that comes from knowing the words in today's Gospel about being “the beloved, in whom God is well pleased” not only describing Christ Jesus, but also us when we are in Christ Jesus. It is that peace, that confidence, that power to be ambassadors of such a message we need to think about today. Then, when we contemplate Holy Lent and the character of what is holding us back from living out that peace, we will know where we are called to place our focus in repentance, ascesis, prayer, and reflection.
In today’s Epistle reading, St. Peter reflects years later on the events of the day of Transfiguration. He understands quite clearly by then the nature and meaning of that holy event – a calling to live lives worthy of the Light we have received in Christ. He speaks about this experience as being a lamp burning in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning-star arises in our hearts. It is a holy reminder of who God is, who we are called to be in God, and the absolute necessity we have to be ready for the moments of transfiguration in daily life presented by God.
The old hymn asks: “Were you there?” Were you there not only when they crucified the Lord, or when they nailed him to the tree, or when they laid him in the tomb? But also, were you there when God presented you with a person needing your care and compassion? Were you there when the Church needed your commitment and gifts? Were you there when God gave you the opportunity to forgive? Were you there when something beautiful, awesome, and profound was offered to you by God? If we were there, but were so busy multi-tasking that we failed to notice what was happening, then we were really not there - dead to God’s work in our life. But, we are given this Feast of the Transfiguration and the season of Lent which begins on Wednesday to wake up from our sleep, to rise from our deathly state, and to turn again to the truth. For that we may thankful, indeed.