Light beamed from Jesus, emanated from his every pour. It looked like he was cloaked in a golden substance, that didn’t quite land on him, but hovered above his body, as he hovered above the earth, on the mountain, that hovered above the valley. The disciples looked up at him, then looked down, and looked up again, and thought, “We are never leaving this place.” THIS is the place, we are building a temple, THIS is the place we are planting a community, a life, THIS is why we have been following this guy Jesus, because look how SHINY and HIGH he is! They caught his glow and thought, “We want to stay here forever.”
Spectacular. This is the transfiguration. Where Jesus’ figure is trans*formed. It’s an odd season to think about transformation and shining, while everything natural around is dormant or dead. There is a traditional Advent or pre-Christmas Hymn we should sing in February instead, “In the bleak mid-winter.” The folk-singer and Wesleyan Graduate Dar Williams sings a song about February,
“The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.
First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we’d planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether.
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?
And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus, ”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower, ”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you.”
“There is nothing in nature that blooms all year long. So don’t expect yourself to do so either.” Yet, “Deep roots never doubt spring will come,” says Marty Rubin. The February’s of life, that last into March, come to us, uninvited and squeeze us.
No wonder the disciples want to stay in this glowy place forever. I don’t blame them. They don’t want to experience February. Even in places like the desert, or like LA, where it is sunny and warm all the time, February moments come. Of course February can be filled with moments of beauty, joy, solitude, silence, deep deep meaning. But if can also be filled with depression and seasonal affective disorder and general malaise. We all know those February moments- whether it is a fight with our loved one, acting a way we aren’t proud of, or our team losing the super bowl to the eagles. I am a Steelers fan by the way, who have 6 super bowl championships, to the Patriots 5… but that is neither here nor there. We all can resonate with the disciple’s sentiment; “I want to stay in this shiny glowy place of goodness forever.”
Why must we feel the squeeze of life, what wisdom does this text give us about moving through and beyond February moments? The transfiguration comes at the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark. Geographically, this mountain is likely Mount Hermon, which is the highest peak in Syro-Palistine
The SALT lectionary commentary writes, “The first eight chapters of Mark describe Jesus’ ministry of healing and liberation, and the last eight chapters describe the descent into his passion and death, and ultimately his empty tomb. The Transfiguration stands as the fulcrum, the pivot point between these two great movements in Mark’s symphony.
Just before the transfiguration Jesus explained “that he must suffer, die, and rise again – and that anyone who wishes to follow him must “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (8:34)” “The Transfiguration’s light, then, acts as reassurance for Peter, James, and John (and for the rest of us!). It’s as if Mark is saying: We’re now making the turn toward Golgotha, and that means descending into the valley of the shadow of death. But fear not! Keep this astonishing, mysterious mountaintop story in mind as we go. Carry it like a torch, for it can help show the way – not least because it gives us a glimpse of where all this is headed…” (http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/2/6/transfiguration-lectionary-commentary-for-epiphany-week-6)
When we find ourselves in the glowing light we think, like Peter, this is how it should be. We want to built our whole lives around these moments. Let us soak in those moments! Right now, remember times you felt loved. Practice joy. Know you are loved and unique and valued. Let this be a glowing light you carry within you. If you need to rest, rest, if you need a break, take a break. Give yourself permission to bask in the glow of your own light and uniqueness.
Because the life of Jesus shows us the fullness of a journey that makes us whole, not only peak experiences. Although we are always covered by the beloved waters of God’s love, we don’t always feel it. We aren’t always at the top. So we need to carry this story like a torch, during times we are parched, burned out.
In the Hebrew Bible text Elijah passes the cloak or mantle onto Elisha, and in the Transfiguration, Jesus speaks to Elijah and Moses like colleagues, and receives their mission. We are about to enter into a 40 day period of Lent, beginning this Wednesday and ending on Easter April 1st.
We are to carry Jesus mantle, to pick up his mission and follow him into the places he will descend, into death itself. As we enter into the journey of Lent this year, and contemplate the descent into the places that squeeze us, I want to leave you with an image of a journey transformation. A clergy friend shared this image with me and I do not know the source, otherwise I’d cite it:
Take the dried out sponge. It cannot fulfill its purpose without first soaking, squeezing and then scrubbing. When the sponge is dried out, it is no use to anybody. It cannot perform its God given functions, to clean and scrub and do good works. So it is with a parched soul. When you are dried out, burnt out, depleted, tired, you cannot perform your function. You need a good soak. Like the sponge, you must soak in the warm, sudsy, bubbly waters, resting, absorbing grace and belovedness. Those mountaintop experiences. Where do you soak?
Now the sponge is saturated and warm and clean and sudsy. It feels warm and loved, has had some time to rest and adjust. But still, basking in these warm sudsy waters, the sponge is saturated and still cannot perform its function. So the sponge must have a squeeze, to become uncomfortable, and pinched, challenged. What squeezes you, makes you reflect, challenges you?
Now that the sponge is squeezed, it can finally get to work. The sponge now has the right amount of water and soap and squeezing to clean out the grime and dirt and grit. It can perform its God given function, do good works, to heal the world and itself. When the sponge has gotten to work, it certainly cannot work forever, so the cycle begins again. A nice soak is soon in order.
Where are you in this cycle of soak, squeeze and scrub? No one likes to be squeezed, but it gives us the capacity to transform ourselves and clean this world with healing love. No one can do this work of creating the Kindom of God without rest and soaking in God’s grace and love. Lent is an opportunity to assess where we are; to identify whether we need a soak, whether we are ready to be squeezed or if it is time to scrub and jump into the work our God is calling us to. Where are you on the journey?
Whether you find yourself on the mountaintop of victory and glory, or in the trenches of darkness, the shadows of death around you, this story of transfiguration reminds us that none of these stages last long, neither glory nor death and pain are indefinite, and suffering is never for it’s own sake. February will continue to compel us into some dark places, as we follow Jesus to the cross, down through the valley, through the ashes, sin and betrayal. And our journey will find resolution on Easter, where we witness the beauty God can create from these places, and the resurrection of the forces of life and love and crocuses. We carry that hope like a torch with us through the days of darkness. Let it be so, Amen