Luke 9:28-36 – Transfiguration Sunday
There was once a thriving monastery in a beautiful forest. It was a very spiritual place, full of devout monks and visitors coming to seek guidance. But the monastery fell on some hard times, which produced a negative attitude within the monks and a lack of spirit that was palpable. The pilgrims became fewer and fewer and there were no longer any young people coming to enter the monastic life. And this trend continued for a long time, until finally, there were only a handful of elderly monks left. It was a dark time in the forest monastery.
The elderly monk’s spirits were lifted, however, was when word would come to them that “the rabbi was walking in the woods.” You see, in the woods near the monastery, there was a small hut that a rabbi had constructed as a place of retreat, and he came from time to time to fast and pray. And the monks knew that they were included in his prayers, so they felt supported, affirmed and loved.
One day, the abbot of the monastery, hearing that the rabbi was walking in the woods, decided to go and see him. And when he reached the little hut, they greeted one another, silently prayed together, and then the abbot began to weep. He poured out his concern for the monastery and for the spiritual health of the monks. Finally, after listening intensively, the rabbi spoke. “You are seeking my guidance and I have only one piece of advice for you. My advice is this. Listen carefully. ‘The Messiah is among you.’”
Well, the abbot returned immediately to the monastery and gathered all the monks and to share the rabbi’s wisdom. “Listen carefully,” the abbot said, ” One of us is the Messiah.” Now, that wasn’t exactly what the rabbi had said, but this message caused them to look at one another in a different light. Is Brother John the messiah? Or Father James? Am I the messiah?
And in the days that followed things began to change. They began to treat one another with a new-found respect because any one of them might be the messiah. And this new sense of esteem and reverence was felt by the few pilgrims who came. Soon the word spread. The young people began to come again, and more and more pilgrims showed up to be blessed by the presence of God among these monks; all because they came to realize that God was among them.[I]
Now, this story reminds me of the Transfiguration narrative for a couple of reasons. First, I think this passage is meant to illustrate for us the paradox of a God who is both mysterious, transcendent, but at the same time, imminent, involved in human life. I mean, think about the elements of this story. There’s a sudden change in Jesus’ appearance, his face and his clothes were suddenly radiant; he was standing there talking with Moses and Elijah, Moses representing the law and Elijah the prophets. And don’t forget about the cloud that shrouded them and the voice of affirmation and direction from God, telling the disciples, and us, to “listen to him.”
I think the mystical elements of this narrative are inviting us to experience a transformation, a change in our hearts and minds. And what’s even more, the Divine affirmation of Christ is intended to instill in us a willingness to affirm others. And that’s the second similarity to the monks. When we listen to God, when we open ourselves to the mystery of the Divine presence, and when we accept others just as they are, for who they are, the astounding glory of God becomes apparent. Thomas Merton once said, “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.”
But what does this transparency look like?
Well, it’s kind of like the little boy who was riding his wagon down the sidewalk. Suddenly, one of the wheels fell off. The little boy jumped out of the wagon and said, “I’ll be damned!” Now, the minister happened to be walking by, and he said, “Son, you shouldn’t use words like that! Instead, when something happens, just say, ‘Praise the Lord,’ and everything will be all right.” Well, the little boy grumbled and put the wheel back on the wagon and started on down the sidewalk. But about 10 yards down the sidewalk, the wheel fell off again and the little boy said, “Praise the Lord!” And here’s the crazy part! Suddenly, that wheel jumped up off the ground and put itself right back on the wagon. Now, the minister saw it all and exclaimed, “I’ll be damned.”[ii]
This is of course meant to be a humorous illustration of those mysterious moments in life when we become keenly aware of the transparent presence of God. But in our human-ness, like Peter, we sometimes want to bask in the moment; we want to build shrines and stay eternally in the feeling of awe. But you and I both know that we can’t, …or can we?
I don’t know. Perhaps we’re not looking in the right places. Perhaps the mystery and miracle of God is right before our eyes all the time.
My friends, God is in the beauty of nature, in all its glory; God is in those moments of unconditional, tender love we share; God is here, between the lines, when we share our stories and our fragile hopes; and God is here, in our suffering, and in every moment of rescue, restoration, and resurrection.[iii]
As we enter once again this Season of Lent, our shared focus and journey for the next few weeks will revolve around introspection; a deeper look at how God is always present in our lives and in the world. Beginning at the Communion table today, I invite you to open your minds and hearts, and to allow yourselves to become aware of the sacredness of all things, the blessedness of all people, and the intrinsic holiness of the natural world. And, through this Lenten journey, may we all discover a path that leads us closer to the Divine.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen & Amen.
[ii] Robert Sims Connections that Count (www.Day1.org) 2004
[iii] Katheryn Matthews Living in Glory (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2019