Pitching a Tent Among Us

Traditional Order of Worship to accompany this reflection: Bulletin-02-19-2023 Transfiguration YA

Let us pray:

Holy One, may the words that I craft and the thoughts and feelings they engender honor you.  May your Holy Spirit intervene if needed, ensuring the message you wish to be known despite my attempt to witness.  Amen.

I used to love to pitch a tent on the ground; unroll my sleeping bag on a mat and listen to the silence of the wilderness seep into my soul, de-cluttering my life. On the occasions that I used to spend the night up in Trout Lake, I’d open the window at night, listening to the silence and the stars. In those times I was reminded to slow down and appreciate life’s pace at a different speed. As we prepare to enter into the Lenten season, it is a good opportunity to slow down and appreciate life at a different speed.  Have you noticed how spring is unfolding, even in the midst of the cold-those daffodils beginning to reach their tender green shoots to the sky – and even some of them with buds already forming on the end.  Look, listen, observe; in opening your eyes to the mystery and rhythm of the earth’s seasons, we also open to God’s beauty.  Who knows what you might see?

Today’s scripture is a story of opening eyes and seeing more than what is ordinary.  Three disciples saw something extra-ordinary when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain.  I wonder, did Jesus know that God, Moses, and Elijah would meet with him on a certain date; and that it would be instructive for Peter, James, and John to witness it?

What is the true story here? How are we to interpret it? What is our response, in faith, supposed to guide us into doing? One commentator wisely writes:

[The] moment of transfiguration … affirms Jesus’ divinity…[allowing] the disciples to see God’s light in the chaos to come: death, loss, fear and resurrection, the work of the early church. The challenge to the disciples is to live in a world without Jesus’ bodily presence.[1]

Another reason to consider this passage is for the enduring image of clarity of thinking found in mountain top experiences. C.S. Lewis writes, in Aslan’s voice in the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia,

Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. 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 and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.[2]

Put another way,

God prepares people in the transcendent encounters of our lives to endure [a] world that has the ability to break us and yet is never beyond God’s redemption. These encounters happen on mountaintops with a blinding light for some. For most, they happen in the ordinary moments of our classrooms, boardrooms, and soup kitchens—any place where we make a space for the Holy to be present.[3]

Which I suspect is precisely why Matthew chose to frame his account of the transfiguration event the way he did.

When Matthew preaches the transfiguration, he addresses a congregation for whom Moses is a compelling interpretative template. Matthew’s sermon is Moses–shaped and the mount of the transfiguration echoes Sinai. … just as Moses receives the law on Mount Sinai, Jesus teaches the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5–7). Moses interprets the commandments of God in Deuteronomy, [so] Jesus interprets the commandments [when he says,] “You have heard that it was said” (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43, etc.). … when Matthew preaches the transfiguration, he intensifies the Moses theme in order to preach Christ.

(…) The genius of Matthew’s preaching, however, centers on the way in verse 6 he echoes the terror and dismay of the Israelites who hear the voice of God (Exod. 20:18) and cry out, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (Exod. 20:19). The glorious presence and commanding voice of the Holy One of Israel threatens to overwhelm those who encounter them, but to the disciples overwhelmed by the presence and voice of God, Jesus reaches out his hand, touches them, and reassures them: “Do not be afraid” (v. 7).[4]

This is the way that God comes into the world: not simply the brilliant cloud of mystery, not only a voice thundering from heaven, but also a human hand laid upon a shoulder and the words, “Do not be afraid.” God comes to us quietly, gently, that we may draw near and not be afraid. God’s glory is majestic and (yet) so far beyond our capacity to receive it that we can (only) take just as much of God’s glory as a human hand can hold (emphasis added).[5]

What can we take from this story today? The transfiguration is a vision of God coming to earth and pitching a tent among us – a holy reminder as we enter into Lent that Christ, Emmanuel, is God enfleshed, having become one of us that we might learn how to live Christlike lives on this earth and for the sake of others.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Maryetta Madeeine Anshutz, “Pastoral Perspective, Matthew 17:1-9” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York: Harper Collins, 1981) 25-26.

[3] Maryetta Madeeine Anshutz, “Pastoral Perspective, Matthew 17:1-9” in Feasting on the Word.

[4] Patrick J. Wilson, “Homiletical Perspective, Matthew 17:1-9” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[5] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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