This coming Wednesday may be my favorite Feast of the church year: the Transfiguration of Jesus. The story is an amazing one, the grandfather of all mountaintop experiences, as Jesus took Peter and James and John to the top of the mountain with him where his appearance and clothing were transfigured in front of them. The lectionary uses the account from the gospel of Luke, which may be the most detailed from the synoptic gospels.
This story tells us that this was about eight days after Jesus foretold his death and resurrection and that Jesus and Moses and Elijah were speaking of his departure. I can only imagine the contrast between this gorgeous, beautiful, powerful mountaintop experience – being up there with Jesus, who you know to be the savior, and Moses, who brought the law to your people, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets – and then the realization that you do not have much more time with Jesus, that he really is going to die and leave you… and soon. You see the cloud gather, and hear God speak to you and scold you, and then you are left alone with Jesus again, in silence. Every year, I try to imagine the parts of the story that didn’t make it into the gospel – how long did they all sit up there on top of the mountain in silence, before starting back down? What was that trudge back down the mountain like? Was it companionable or awkward? Did they speak and sing, or were their footfalls the only sounds to break the silence? What happened when they rejoined the rest of the disciples? Were there lots of questions? What did they tell their friends, the people they lived and traveled with, after Jesus asked them to remain silent?
Last year, I wrote a story about the walk down the mountain, told from the point of view of young John. In the story, all three disciples were unsure what to think, and they walked in awkward, uncomfortable silence until Jesus broke it with words. And I wrote another story, about a teenaged girl who found her heart transfigured at the top of a mountain. I was full of awe and wonder, imagining the Transfiguration and what it would have looked like, sounded like, felt like. This is a story, I believe, that we are called to engage with, to dive into and try to experience with all our senses. Some of us are able to immerse ourselves into that place of active imagination, and others of us need to be guided along the way. But there are so many revelations waiting for us in scripture, if we allow ourselves to soak in the words, to reflect and contemplate, to practice lectio divina or some other method for engaging with the word.
Today, this Sunday, I almost decided to stay home from church. But it is the last Sunday of maplestar’s visit from Canada, so I went for his sake, knowing how powerful it can be to simply bother to show up when I don’t really feel like it. We had a quick breakfast on the way, and got to the church comfortably before the service began. During the opening hymn, the pain started – I’ve had incredible pain in my entire body since last Monday’s flight to Minnesota; it hasn’t gone below about 7 out of 10 in a week now – and I had to set aside my hymnal because my hands hurt too much to hold it. Sitting down was fine… for a few minutes, and then my hips and ankles and back and hands and neck started spasming and stabbing. Standing up would give relief for a moment, and then the pain would start in again. By the start of the sermon, I was in tears. By the start of the eucharistic prayer, I knew that if I wanted to be able to drive home, I wasn’t going to be able to go up to the rail. The rector glanced up at me a couple times, as if weighing what he should do, but decided to let things be unless he got a request. After the closing hymn, I sat back down to listen to the organ postlude, and whispered into maplestar’s ear a request that he ask the rector if he could please communicate me from the reserved elements. As the crowd thinned out at the rear of the nave, I heard the rector’s voice agreeing happily and wondering how I was doing. He checked in on me first, then gathered the bread and a little wine, communicated me, and then laid his hands on my head to pray for me and bless me. I really needed to take part in the Feast today, with my third – and final, for this series – session of prolotherapy tomorrow morning, and maplestar’s departure scheduled for Wednesday, yes, the Feast of the Transfiguration. Then both men helped me to stand, and I hobbled back out to my car to drive home, where I took my last darvocet and lay down to rest horizontally.
When I read the collect for the Transfiguration, one line in particular sang out for me:
Mercifully grant that we,
being delivered from the disquietude of this world,
may by faith behold
the King in his beauty.
Our prayer on this day is to help us to set aside the disquietude – to ascend to a quiet place – where we are able to behold Jesus in his white, glistening raiment, and know that we, too, are the Beloved, the Chosen, of God. It can be so difficult to pull away from the disquietude of this world. We have to find those quiet places, and not all of them are so obvious as the summit of an isolated mountain. Some of those quiet places may be libraries or bookstores, may be beautiful parks or forests, may be desert or jungle, may be churches or synagogues or mosques. Some of them may be within ourselves. And it is those places of quiet where we can meet Jesus, arrayed in glory, infused with light, surrounded by the communion of saints.
Then, once we have beheld Christ in this way, it is time to say farewell to that place of quiet, of contemplation, of glory, of holiness, of change, and to return to the physical world again. But on that journey back to the world, on that strange walk down the mountain, we have to move from quiet into speech, from holding secrets to finding the right times to reveal them, from a place of absolute holiness into a flawed and broken world.
Up on the mountain, Jesus learned what was going to happen to him in the next days, about his capture and arrest, his interrogation, his beating and crucifixion, his death and burial. We may learn very difficult things on those mountaintops, when we are delivered from the disquietude of this world, and we need that walk back to this world to begin to take those things in. And once we have, the morning star shall rise in our hearts, and we will become, as Peter says, that lamp shining in a dark place. People who know themselves and the very deepest truths about their lives do indeed shine like a light in the dark.
Today, at church, I was definitely in a place of disquietude, even in the midst of my brothers and sisters at a parish I know to be my home. But once the service ended, in the elements of holy communion, the rector of the parish helped deliver me to one of those quiet places, and I beheld God in his eyes and in maplestar’s. It lasted for a short moment, but I know that it happened. And perhaps, when I’m in the worst of the pain, I can hold on to that memory, that knowledge, and bring the shining light of Jesus – found in the eyes of those who helped me as Jesus helped all he met – back into the forefront, where it can deliver me from the disquietude again.
Beloved friends, I hope that you will find those places of quiet, that you will be able to behold God in God’s beauty. And I wish you a glorious, blessed Feast of the Transfiguration.