In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s been a very hard winter for a few of the friends I love most. Suffering has hit them hard. One dear friend is grieving after her child’s death. Another has just called in hospice care for her husband, who’s struggled with cancer for a few years.
And it makes me realize how in this particular period of my life I’ve been so very fortunate.
In any human life suffering plays a starring role from time to time. So sometimes I feel like I’m going through the days just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Do you know what I mean?
Today’s gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain got me thinking about how we swing from enjoying really good years to suffering through more difficult ones, and hopefully back again—this time with more wisdom and compassion, we hope. In the gospel we go from the awe of glimpsing divinity to the reality of coming down from that and turning toward suffering. Actually today’s Collect sets the stage for us with these words: “Grant that we, beholding by faith the light of Jesus’ countenance (or face), may be strengthened to bear our cross...”
The Collect asserts that the moments in our lives when we experience God breaking through to us—moments of transcendence—these strengthen us. It’s as if they put a nice, big deposit in the spiritual bank for us, so that we’re fortified for some lean years ahead, years that may be marked with suffering.
Some cynical folks say that there’s been a death or at least a dearth of transcendence in our culture lately. Everythingmoves so fast / that it’s harder for people to see God breaking through and touching our hearts and souls. Maybe the key to seeing God shine through to us is to slow down and just be. Be open.
One pastor wrote, “In God’s continual flirtation with the world, only rarely does God bowl us over, write some slogan across the sky in neon. More often, God quietly courts us, teases us, pulls back the curtain between today and eternity for only a peek. And when such a glimpse is given you, on a mountaintop or in a Sunday pew, cherish it, but don’t even try to capture it, for it is a gift, a glimpse, a fleeting, blessed gift of revelation.” [The Rev. Eugene N. Nelson, Jr., “Thin Places,” February 15, 2015, http://www.uccseb.org]
And I’d add to that statement and say that such a glimpse is a huge deposit in our spiritual banks.
In our gospel story of the Transfiguration, the disciples Peter, James and John had a huge dose of AWE given them on the mountain when they saw Jesus transfigured, when they saw Moses and Elijah with him, and especially when they saw the bright cloud and heard God’s voice booming out of that cloud identifying Jesus as God’s son, and commanding the disciples to listen to him.
And it appears that these close friends of Jesus needed this supernatural reassurance that God is in charge, and that Jesus is God’s Son…for soon thereafter they began the journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus would be betrayed, would suffer, and would be put to death. Their time on the Mount of Transfiguration equipped them more-or-less to deal with the shocking events to come…but still they struggled, didn’t they?
Our moments of seeing the Ordinary transfigured with God’s majesty and presence equip us as well to face the future.
So think for a moment: when have you seen God’s majesty or God beauty revealed to YOU?
Let me share one such moment in my life. I remember celebrating Eucharist at a parish picnic held lakeside in Madison. The congregation had been passing through a difficult time together. They gathered to find comfort and a way through their suffering. We were using the prayer from Enriching Our Worship, the one we often use on Wednesday evenings here.
With the lake as a backdrop we came to the part of the prayer that says, “Wondrous are you, Holy One of Blessing. All you create is a sign of hope for our journey.” And just as I got to that part about all Creation being a sign of hope for us, a big flock of ducks noisily took flight right behind us from the water up into the sky. The timing was impeccable. It gave us goose bumps—and a sign of reassurance from God that all would be well.
I get a similar feeling sometimes in the woods, no matter what season it is. Sunshine on snow with all the dark, vertical tree trunks; new spring leaves virtually glowing bright green; loamy earth with a harvest of autumn mushrooms; rushing streams…all these things and more speak of God’s presence and sovereignty and fill up my spiritual bank account. That’s why I’ve become a big fan of walking in the woods.
I wonder: Would anyone like to share a story of a time when you felt God’s presence strongly? [don’t forget in the Holy Communion]
Thank God for these moments. Thank God for making it clear to us through Jesus’ life / that all people suffer, even the God-man, Jesus Christ. And thank God for the way of faith, and for helping us endure by building us up with moments of transcendence. Now, if you find yourself in need of a breaking-through from God, a sign of God’s presence and care, do not EVER hesitate to ask for it. God will come through for you—and sometimes it may be subtle—so be on the lookout.
By God’s great gift we get glimpses of the Holy, and we remember in the hard times that God has been, and continues to be, right HERE, after all.