Through a Mirror Dimly, Transfiguration
The readings for Transfiguration can be found here
Sometimes it feels as if our lives are lived in pursuit of mountain top moments.
In fact, that’s the only way I can make sense of things like bungie jumping, surfing 50 foot swells, climbing Mount Everest or Sky diving.
People who participate in these sorts of activities describe them as “life changing”, as transformative. They may describe themselves as feeling more complete, more authentically and wholly themselves in the moments following these peak experiences.
And, when described as a “peak experience” we can call to mind the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who used the term peak experience to describe the “tremendous intensification of any of the experiences in which there is loss of self or transcendence of [self]” (Maslow, 1970, Motivation and Personality, p. 165)
For example, “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
An intense experience of encounter, an encounter with the divine that leaves Moses literally transformed. An encounter, not just for Moses, but for the entire community as the ongoing work of Moses leads the community to a deeper understanding of God’s salvation and the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people.
So, while Moses may not have been a bungie jumping enthusiast--he was a man transformed through relationship with God and an encounter on a mountain. And, in his transformation, the community that (only a few short chapters ago) had turned from God to the worship of idols, re-engages with the God of all creation.
As I consider this, I consider what it takes for not only for an individual but for an entire community to be transformed. What would it mean for all of us, here at St. Clement’s, to be transformed?
I would argue, that our Christian calling is to transformation. To the process of becoming more wholly and perfectly ourselves with the help and power of God. Our liturgy, the work we do here in our worship, is centered on the potential and desire for our own transformation. Confession, forgiveness and reconciliation are central to our liturgical action each and every week.
During our Lenten observances, our liturgy will point even more explicitly towards this process of repentance and reconciliation. During the season of Lent we will observe the penitential order offered in the Book of Common Prayer. This order begins the liturgy with a call to repentance--but the call to repentance is framed within the context that our repentance, our desire for forgiveness, is met by God’s grace and mercy.
The priest begins, “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” And the people respond, “God’s mercy endures forever.”
Our brokenness is met by God’s grace. The brokenness that led to the Israelites worship of the golden calf is ultimately met with forgiveness and a deepening of relationship. The brokenness of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian community, is met by God’s mercy. And, throughout the Gospel we see moment’s in which Peter’s failure ultimately becomes his triumph.
Transfiguration, transformation, reconciliation, a people made whole and holy in relationship with God.
This culmination of the season after the Epiphany, sets the stage for our Lenten journey.
As the prayer book liturgy for Ash Wednesday notes,
“This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”
Our observance of what’s called “the transfiguration” is an invitation into the process of forgiveness and reconciliation that marks the season of Lent.
It is also a gift, an offering, as our experience of transfiguration gives us sustenance for our Lenten journey.
Transfiguration offers hope for the journey--we can’t stay on the mountaintop, but the experience of the mountaintop gives us what we need in order to sustain the day to day in between what can be called peak experiences.
C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia has Aslan describes this experience on the mountaintop thusly,
“Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart...”
Today is an offering of signs, and we are encouraged to take note of the shining face of the divine so that we might remember that light and recognize the divine in the ordinary and the day to day.
The glimpse we have offers us hope for the future.
I realize as I write these words that perhaps I’ve been too impersonal. With my references to Maslow, Lewis and the skydiving which I can assure you will never be one of my hobbies. So, I want to close with an offering of one of my own peak experiences.
It begins with grief. My dad died, of a massive heart attack, in November of my senior year of high school. I grieved, I still do. There is much from that year that I’ve forgotten--my experiences fogged by the grief and loss that superimposed themselves over everything my senior year. Near the close of that school year, my class participated in a retreat and (still clouded by sorrow) I remember distinctly how deeply burdened I was by my awareness of all that my dad would not experience and all that had been lost. However, during a hike up the side of a valley, I remember looking around and seeing clearly for what seemed to be the first time in a very, very long time.
As I looked up the green slope, down into the valley below, and out into the deep blue of the ocean, I was struck by a moment of sharp clarity. This beauty, this transcendent creation, was enough. And, if my dad had had even one such experience, that would be enough. The transcendent happiness of that moment burst through the clouds of sorrow and reminded me of the beauty and hope that was there, despite the suffering, despite the loss, despite of the what might have beens.
In that moment I experienced a beautiful truth of God’s grace in the midst of it all. All I knew was transfigured in a moment of glory and of happiness. And, while that moment was all too fleeting, I hold it still and to know that this exists, this wholeness and holiness--this is enough.
the Reverend Lori Brandt Hale writes that, “The transfiguration of Jesus offers a glimpse of what is possible, not only for Jesus, but for all humanity.” (FotW 454). So, today we are offered a glimpse of what is possible.
And, thus, it is our calling to be transformed into the possible. To be made more wholly and completely ourselves--and in that transformation, to radiate the light of Christ into a world desperate for that light.
So, shine on people of God.
I wanted to include the following from Barth, it didn't fit. But, since this is my blog, you're getting it anyway...
Theologian Karl Barth describes God as “the one who makes us radiant.” Barth goes on to say that “We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them from shining.”