You can’t blame Peter, not really. Who wouldn’t want to try to hold on to the wonder, the joy, the hope that he and James and John must have experienced on that mountaintop that day? To be bathed in all that light? To have all the pieces come together in that vision of the heroes of one’s faith all together in one place? Especially in these days:
- when winter continues to hang on;
- when too many around us or perhaps we ourselves are weighed down by grief;
- when tragedies large and small grab the headlines;
staying in that time and place apart with Jesus (and Moses and Elijah) seems awfully appealing.
Oh, it was not to be, of course. Their time on the mountain was short and soon, too soon, they would be heading back down into the muck and the mess that would be waiting them below. Indeed, as we hear the story now, we realize that there was hardly any time at all for them to let their bodies and spirits adjust to the lower elevation before they were met by both heartbreak and hope in a father and his son who was so very ill.
And yet, here is what strikes me here. It was a wonder what happened on that mountain top, to be sure. Only that sense of wonder doesn’t stay there. Rather, it followed Jesus wherever he went. In fact, we hear today that after the light faded. After the disciples followed him back down. After he encountered the crowd with all of its misery which was, of course, met by healing. Only then do we hear that ‘all were astounded by the greatness of God.’ The transfiguration of Jesus may have happened on a mountaintop for only a handful to see. But that Transfigured One steps into our every day lives and we are left to marvel at what God does down here in the middle of it all. That sense of wonder does not stay on the mountaintop. Not at all.
And this is a good thing. Because most of us, most of the time, do not spend our days on mountaintops. Rather we are down here slogging through the messes which this very day will hold.
This is how it was for me just a few days back.
I walked by the mailbox outside my office and picked up a couple of sermon reports which had been turned in by middle school students the Sunday before. I took a quick glance, not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary for most of the time it is so that the thoughts recorded by our young people don’t go all that deep. Indeed, usually when asked what the ‘good news’ of the day is, they will pencil in “God Loves Us All.” One cannot argue with that, of course, although more times than not, this preacher has not articulated it in quite that way. The paper on top was different, though. One of our sixth graders had written down,
“When Jesus comes, everyone matters.”
Truly, this pastor almost wept to see that a twelve-year-old had heard such a word of promise and grace last Sunday. It was as though light itself broke through on a Wednesday afternoon and I was more than a little ‘astounded at the greatness of God.’ Not on the mountaintop, this time, but just outside my office door and in the heart and the imagination of a young person who perhaps realized something about Jesus he had not known before.
That moment came at a good time for I was headed out the door to call upon one of our elders who just moved into a nursing home. Now I do not offer this as excuse, but perhaps as some small explanation. We have a lot of older folks where I serve and often the pastor (of which I am the only one) does her best to be with them in times medical emergency or other urgent need, neither of which had lately been true for her. Simply put, I had not seen her in some time. In the meantime, this individual had been well cared for by lay people who took her communion very month. And so it was that I was in conversation with one who often carried the gifts of bread and wine to her not so long ago and I commented then that I needed to go see her. “Oh no, Pastor!” this one responded. “She hates you — or rather, she hates women pastors!” I shook my head in surprise, but truth be told, I thought it best to let it lie for then. Or maybe I just didn’t want to deal with it quite yet.
Only as these things sometimes go, she fell and wound up in the hospital and was transferred to a local nursing home before we knew it. Her 90th birthday was this week and so I said I would go. As I prepared to do so, one of our staff tucked into my arms a prayer shawl to take with me as gift from the congregation (knowing as we all do that gifts can be disarming…)
- I went.
- I made my way to her room.
- I stepped inside and reminded her of who I was.
- I asked if I could sit down and did so.
- She received the prayer shawl graciously, commenting on how beautiful it was and asked me to thank the women at church.
- We visited a while about what it was like for her there, about how they give her too much to eat, about how she is not that pleased with having a room-mate.
- She invited me to read her birthday cards and letters, told me stories about her parents whose photographs were on her dresser, and offered to share her peanuts with me.
It was going well, I thought. Near the end of what I thought was our time together I offered to pray. She bowed her head and I offered a short prayer and blessing for her. When she picked up her head, she fixed her eyes on me and said, “WHO are you again?”
I told her. Her eyes flashed in recognition as she said, “I don’t like women pastors, you know…” and she went on to say she preferred the male preachers on television and to tell me that she got a whole lot more from them than actually going to church. I assured her that was fine, but would it be all right if I came back to pray with her again? She thought perhaps it would be. And then she looked at me and said, “You have gray hair just like mine.” I laughed and agreed with her. And then she said, “You’re all right.”
I suppose it’s easier to not like someone in principle but when face to face with that someone who shows up and prays with you and for you, it’s a little harder. And yes, the room brightened a little bit as I was, in that moment, taking note of the ‘greatness of God.’ Not on the mountaintop, this time, but in a room at the nursing home with an old woman who discovered maybe the world was not as she thought it was a moment before. And who, perhaps, sensed the presence of Christ in prayers offered for her.
Indeed, the sense of wonder those disciples must have known on that mountaintop follows them down into the world and as we hear it today into an encounter with a man and his suffering son and into all those places we are called to go and be and do every day. Our offices, yes, and out of the way places like nursing homes and hospital rooms. In the line at the grocery store and the waiting room at the doctor’s office and in the line of folks waiting to pick their children up from school or daycare. In the classroom, the boardroom, in the break room, and on and on… Indeed, the flash of recognition those disciples experienced is repeated time and time again as one of our 6th graders has it, “whenever Jesus comes and we recognize that everyone matters,” enabling us to turn aside our old fears or biases and look with new eyes on one we were set up to reject. As may have happened a few days back as I sat in a folding chair across from one who by perhaps unwelcome coincidence (at least for her) is in my pastoral care. (For that matter, we will simply have to wait to see what happens when I go back!)
Either way, what a gift it is to know and to experience that sense of wonder not just on the mountaintop but in all those places we spend our ordinary days, as we get glimpses of the truth that ‘when Jesus comes, everyone matters!’
- A father and his ailing son.
- A lonely old woman at the nursing home.
- This pastor who stepped with trepidation into her room a few days back.
And each and every one of you and all you will encounter this day. For where you go? Jesus goes as well. And all that light and wonder goes with him.
- I have a hard time comprehending what Peter and James and John must have experienced that day. For me, at least, the certainty of who Jesus is for us comes in flashes of light down here and the ground. How has this been for you?
- When were you last ‘astounded at the greatness of God?’ What moment or cluster of moments comes to mind for you?
- In the words of one of our Confirmation Students, “When Jesus comes, everyone matters.” For me his words ‘transfigure and transform’ how I hear and experience the power of the Gospel —- indeed, Jesus healing a child at the base of that mountain brings those words alive. Do that sixth grader’s words work as a window into Transfiguration Sunday or is it so that the gift of what they point to are not glorious enough? What do you think?