Transfiguration Sunday

Communion meditation by David Butler

Pardeeville: March 3, 2019

Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36


            Welcome to Transfiguration Sunday. It’s yet another of those weird little holy days in the church year like Christ the King Sunday or Epiphany or Trinity Sunday, or maybe even Pentecost for you, that leaves you scratching your head and saying, “oh yeah that. What is that again?”

            Well, this day marks the end of the season of Epiphany, which we really experience as the deep breath we get to take between Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter. You probably don’t need a deep breath in there, but historically pastors and churches have. By the end of this episode, which of course culminates in Easter, pastors all over the land will declare that Christ has risen and they have collapsed, and please don’t call them before Wednesday.

            But there really is a sacred rhythm to all of this, and it really does make some sense. In my view, Advent announces God as fundamentally gracious. By this I mean that God always initiates things. You are here not because you decided all on your own to believe in God, or to walk with God, or to seek God. Advent announces that you are here because God has first, somehow, some way, come to you. Advent is our time to hear that announcement, and to tidy up our spiritual houses and get ready for company.

            Next week, we will begin to hear a different call. That is the call of Christ that echoes through the gospels, and reaches all the way to us. The call is simple, as Christ says to us, “follow me”.

            So we have two stories to entertain this morning. You have heard the first one. It is the Hebrew text for the day because it sets up our gospel.

            Here’s some of the back story. Moses and the children of Israel have been in the wilderness for some time. This is the second time Moses has brought down the Ten Commandments, dictated by God, to the people. The first time the people agreed to the terms of this covenant, and then broke it as an act of fear and rebellion. They didn’t like the harshness of their new freedom. They preferred the laziness of slavery. Moses had to talk God out of destroying them, which is a quite amazing story in and of itself. And the people came home. And because of that, God reneged on the divine threat. Here they are starting over.

            A couple of images strike me here. One is, why didn’t everybody go up the mountain? Why only one? Why do we still, all too often, even after all that Christ has done, send one person up the mountain to talk with God, and have him or her come back down on Sunday mornings to say what he or she has seen? Why don’t more of us climb that mountain? I’m sure more do than I realize.

            Our gospel was written with a memory of this story fresh and at hand. It comes on the heels of some important developments in the gospel story. Jesus is very close to turning his face toward Jerusalem, as they say. That is the point when things get serious. Jesus had just fed five thousand people. Herod had become curious about what kind of threat this man was. Jesus asked Peter who he thought he was, and he, for the first time, realized that he was the Christ. This lifted them up to a brand-new place, I think. Jesus would follow that realization immediately by announcing his death. In this, the good news was dashed, and the disciples despaired. And then comes this. (Read Luke 9:28-36)

            We preacher types get taught any number of different ways to think about scripture. Here’s one: ask ourselves, what would the original hearers of these words have heard? Then, what has the church heard in here, through history? Finally, what do we hear now?

            The first hearers would have heard the gospels as a logical continuation of the Old Testament. This story was supposed to look a lot like the story we read from Exodus. Jesus would be shown as the equal of the two most storied prophets of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. He then would have been shown to be the one left standing: not merely a prophet, as revered as prophets were, but the Messiah.

            The church may have used this any number of ways. It may have fueled a kind of Christian arrogance, as it asserted it superiority over Judaism. It surely was used to reassert the good news that would ultimately come out of all the bad news they had heard thus far. It has most certainly has been a metaphor for the thing I love it for, which is the way things change, in God’s sacred flow of things.

            I don’t know whether I read this someplace long ago, or simply thought it myself. It’s been so long I can’t recall, but here it is. Be careful how you concoct your opinions of things when you are young, because they are likely not to change when you are older.

            Think about this for a moment if you will. When was the last time you completely changed your mind about a thing? How long has it been since you looked at some deeply held belief or opinion and realized that, in the light of the evidence before you, you were wrong.

            These are hard things to come onto. Often they involve some repentance. They involve making amends. They might involve apologies to people you have hurt by believing what you did.

            It occurred to me the other day that the United States should adopt a new motto. America, the place where everyone’s mind is already made up.

            This time is more entrenched in inflexibility than anytime I have lived through. I happen to be reading the biography of Frederick Douglass right now, and learning about the abolitionist days of the 1800s, and the things leading up to the Civil War, and I don’t believe that these are the worst times we’ve ever had. But I think these are bad. And I am afraid that I don’t see a way through it.

            You’ll notice in the bulletin that this isn’t called a sermon, but rather a communion meditation. That’s code for “this needs to be shorter than a sermon because we are celebrating communion today, and we still have to beat the Methodists to the diner.” But it also bears the intention of giving us a way to think about how we are to come to the table today: what spirit are we to bear? What question might God be asking of us? How do we come?

            The answer to that, of course, is between you and God. But there is a part of this that is corporate. We are here gathered as the body of Christ, one body, with many parts. And how might we, this body, hear the invitation?

            Well, this is a story about changing. And if we aren’t paying attention, we might think that it’s a story about how Jesus changed. It looked to the three like his face changed, and his robe changed, and they finally woke up and were shocked. Shocked so badly they could not speak.

            And we have to ask: who really changed? Was it him? Or was it them?

            It’s been a while since I have done a 180 on anything, but I remember clearly when it did happen. I realized, in an instant, that everything I had been telling myself about the way the world was as regards this one thing was totally wrong. And I melted. I felt limp and helpless. I didn’t know what to do. I had to call for help.

            The Bible repeats a rhythm of how things change, according to the Bible according to God. And it is the repeated rhythm of death and resurrection. Once upon a time in this country, we thought black people were inferior to whites. And we woke up. We thought women were inferior to men. And we woke up. We thought gays and lesbians were inferior to straight people. And we woke up, some of us. Currently in America, we seem to think that love is inferior to money, that foreigners are inferior to citizens, that peacemaking is inferior to military buildup. Will we wake up?

            As you come to the table this morning, is there some waking up you need to do? It might be in your opinion of lofty, global things, it might more intimate than that.

            I believe that an essential rhythm to being faithful is our willingness to hold our convictions, and perhaps most especially out resentments, lightly. It may well be God’s desire to change them.

            In the name and spirit of our living Lord, I invite you to this humble feast prepared in His presence. Amen.

  July 2020  
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