Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feast of the Transfiguration

Luke 9:28-43a
Exodus 34:29-35
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
They were not ready for what was going to happen that day when they followed Jesus up the mountain to pray.  I was recently given the opportunity to visit Mount Tabor where tradition tells us the transfiguration took place.  As my traveling companions and I stood at the bottom of the mountain waiting for the van to come and drive us up to the top, I remember wishing we had time walk up.  Even though the walk would have been long and steep, the day was beautiful and peaceful, a lovely day for a hike.  I can imagine that it wasn’t very different for the disciples on the day Jesus took them up the mountain.  They probably joked and chatted with each other as they walked, admiring their surroundings, and as they reached the top of the mountain, with its gorgeous view of the countryside, they dozed in the warm sun and cool breezes, lulled into a sense of comfort and complacency.  They were not ready for the startling revelation they were about to encounter.  They were not ready to have the veil pulled away before them, seeing Jesus in all his glory talking with the prophets of Old.  It didn’t matter that they had already seen Jesus perform some pretty amazing miracles, it didn’t matter that Peter had already proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah of God, they just were not ready to be faced with God’s glory.

They were not ready to hear the voice of God speaking directly to them, telling them who Jesus is.  They were not ready and they could not cope.  Not many would be strong enough and brave enough to stand on a mountain top and respond when God speaks to them from the heavens.  Moses did it, Elijah did it, but Peter James and John were just not prepared to face that challenge.  So they said nothing, and would not speak of it again for some time. 

The reaction of the disciples was really perfectly normal. In today’s Old Testament reading The Israelites were not ready either.  Again and again in Exodus they see God’s glory descend and they are terrified by it, they could not even bare to see the glory of God reflected in Moses’ face.
And it is this same God that is incarnate in Jesus Christ, the same God whose glory terrified the Israelites, whose glory was describes as a consuming fire.

Every year we hear the story of the Transfiguration on this last Sunday before Lent and are reminded that we, like the Israelites and like the disciples, are not yet ready.

In his poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” 

God understands that we are not ready.  And so we are given scripture, written in such a way that reveals God’s brilliance through ‘a glass darkly’, and we are given the sacraments through which we might each approach God’s glory at our own individual pace.  God is patient with our uneasiness and will meet us where we are, but continually encourages us to ‘wipe clean the doors of perception’, to peel back the thin veil between us and the infinite. We are constantly being urged to step out of our safe little caverns, and into the consuming fire of God’s glory.

But how do we really prepare for something like that?  Is it even possible?  It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that if we are just able to understand theology well enough or have an organized enough life, or are penitent enough we can be prepared for anything God throws at us, but the truth is we will probably never be ready, not really.  We can’t really change ourselves enough that we would actually be able to cope with God’s glory, it is just too big.  Rather it is God’s glory that changes us, once we surrender to it.  And perhaps surrendering is enough of a task in its self.  If all of our prayer, Lenten discipline and study is done with the intention of trying to tame God’s mystery, rather than as a way of submitting to God’s work in us, than it is done for nothing. 

Because the truth is, the mystery that we think we have safely under our control, safely locked away in the tabernacle, cannot really be contained by the boundaries we have put around it.  So as Paul reminded the Corinthians, we too must act with great boldness and look to the incarnation of a fearsome and untamable God in the person of Jesus Christ, and we must look to his death on the cross and the glory of his resurrection and boldly face what that means for us, that we too have a stake in God’s infinite mystery if we would only surrender and be transformed.