Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Transfiguration


August 6, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Fargo, N.D.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, the day on which we commemorate that amazing transformation of Jesus on the mountain top. In this moment, for one moment, the veil between our world and God’s world is pushed aside. On that mountain top, Jesus seems for a moment to have one foot in each world—one in this world, in which he is a human being just like the rest of us and one foot in the next world in which he is much more than just another human being.

That would have been, in and of its self, enough. But Jesus is also seen standing between Moses and Elijah—Moses, who symbolizes the Law, and Elijah, who symbolizes the prophecies. With each standing there with Jesus, it is obvious that what we see in the Transfiguration is Jesus being the fulfillment of both the Law and the prophecies. The presence of Moses and Elijah shows us that—in a sense—their mission is complete. It isn’t useless or pointless—we can still find great comfort and direction for our lives in what Moses and Elijah spoke of. But here, in this glorified person they flank, all that they foretold—all that they looked forward to—has found its completion.

Everyone who witnesses this vision is affected by it. The Apostles who witness it—Peter, James and John, that inner sanctum among the Apostles—don’t quite know what to make of it. They have been roused form their tired state by this incredible experience. They are obviously baffled by what they saw. They do the only thing they can do—they offer to build three sanctuaries there—to worship what they see as divine. Finally, they seem to come down from the mountain in what I’m sure was a dazed state.

But why is it important to us? Why is this story that seems so strange and so exotic so important to us—in this day and age? What is this story of the Transfiguration saying to us? Do we too need to be crawling around on top of hills to find a place in which the veil between this world and God’s world is lifted?

Well, to some extent, that is what we do every time we gather here together at this altar. In a sense, when we come together today, here at this altar, we too are coming to a place every much like the mountain top experience we heard about in this morning’s Gospel. In the scriptures we have just heard, we have heard God’s voice. We hear the Law and/or the Prophecies in our readings. Then we celebrate the Communion together at the altar, when Jesus comes to us in the bread and the wine—for a moment, the veil between this world and God’s world is parted.

We too are able to come close to Jesus, our friend and companion, Jesus our God, and see him—if only under the appearance of a wafer and wine. We too get to hear him, even when the voice sounds like a friend and companion in our lives. But I think the interesting thing we must remind ourselves is this: it’s all right to search for God, to seek out these experiences of God’s presence in our lives.

But why our searching and longing for God is different than others is that, in our case, as Christians, our God is not evasive. God is not playing hide-and-seek-with us. God is here. All we have to do is ask. All we have to is look. All we have to do is seek. And we will find. We have never lost our God. God has come to us as dazzling Light, yes. God has spoken to us—at least through the scriptures—with a booming voice from heaven, yes.

But God has also come to us as one of us. God has come to us in Jesus. God comes to us in the Jesus we share with each other here at the altar, in the Jesus we share with each other in our own very presence as the people of God.

We search for God. We long for God. But we are also able to find God. God is no further from us than right here, in our midst, when gather together to worship, to hear the scriptures and to break the bread that is Jesus’ body. And like those disciples, we must, when we’re done, go from here. We must leave the mountaintop experience and go back down, to share our experience, to live out what we have learned and felt here.

And this is the other reason I think our experience as Christians is different than others. Others seem to be looking for God for themselves. They long for God to fill whatever empty space is within them. It is their own personal experience. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. When it comes right down to it, our experience with God is ultimately personal. When all is said and done, we are the only ones who can present ourselves honestly before God.

But our experience of God is more than just filling the emptiness within us. We are compelled—by the words we hear in the scriptures, by the spirit of Christ we take with us from this Communion—to live that experience out in the world. Now, I’m not saying we need to preach from the street corners. We’re good Episcopalians. We just don’t do that. Besides, preaching from the street corners doesn’t always do it for others.

No, we can live out the experience we have with Christ here in how we live our lives—in how we carry ourselves and in what we do and say. I firmly believe that some of the best evangelizing anyone can do is by example. In fact, we need to strive to be authentic Christians, not phony and vindictive Christians as I’m sure we ourselves have encountered over the years. Being an authentic Christians means being loving and compassionate people. It means walking in love.

Of course, we will fail at times in that. I fail in walking in love—in being compassionate and loving. I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic or by an insensitive co-worker or at the injustices in the world around me. I complain. I grumble. I am not always a walking talking billboard for the Christians faith. But hopefully, our experience here—our encounter with God in this place on this day—can make enough of a difference in our lives that we will be able to carry it with us throughout our week and into our very day-to-day lives.

Hopefully, we can go from here glowing with the experience we have here. That glow might not be a visible glow, but hopefully it is one we can feel within us. That glow—that aftereffect of our experience of God—is what we can carry with us and cherish within us long after we leave here. Of course, we also need to face the facts about not only the story we have heard in today’s Gospel, but in what we have commemorated here at the altar.

Today is also the anniversary of another bright light. It was on this day in 1945 that the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. We, in a sense, are still living in the afterglow of that event. It changed all of us and transformed us in ways we could never imagine. In that white light, a violence like we have never known was unleashed upon the world.

What we celebrate today at the altar, is a remembrance of the violent death of Jesus and his triumph over that death. And not just over his death. It is a triumph over the death that was brought upon Hiroshima and all those people who died in war.

It is a triumph over our deaths as well. The Transfiguration shows us that God—not us—gets the last word. We, as Christians, as much as we’d like to, can’t go around being happy-clappy all the time. Our experience on the mountain-top—like all life-altering experiences—will fade from us eventually. It did for those apostles who accompanied Jesus there. All of them—Jesus, Peter, James and John—would experience much sorrow in the weeks and years ahead of them. The experience of the mountaintop cannot be preserved. Like all the wonderful moments in our lives, they can only be cherished. And they can be shared. But we have the continued opportunity to come back and to participate in it again and again.

God is here. God is present among us—God’s people. God is longing too. God is longing for us—to know us and to have us experience God. So, go from here—go back down the mountain, into the valley below, with your experience of God glowing brilliantly on your faces. Cherish it and live it out in your life. And be the reflection of that that Light of God in all aspects of your life.

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