Dazzling! Reflections 2-28-19

Texts for March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Cor 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36

There is a verse in one of the hymns we sing around here that says 
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, 
no sudden rending of the veil of clay, 
no angel visitant, no op'ning skies…

To some extent, I lie every time I sing that. My husband and I have even talked about it. He and I both think it would be great to have a dream, a prophet ecstasy, a rending of the veil of clay, an angel visit, or an opening sky. How spectacular! How inspiring!

This week’s Gospel is the final one for the season of Epiphany. If you remember, the season of Epiphany is when we are on the lookout for God sightings in the world. And that verse of that hymn from above lists some definitive manifestations of God’s presence aka epiphanies.

The very day of Epiphany included God-inspired dreams to save the life of the infant Jesus. The next Sunday featured an opening sky at Jesus’ baptism. The rest of the Sundays were more subtle. Jesus taught with authority, he healed, he spoke of God’s love for the vulnerable and he showed God’s 
generous abundance with wine one week and fish the other.

But we’ve saved the most “epiphanous” epiphany for last. Jesus, who often slipped off to pray alone, invited 3 disciples to go with him up a mountain to pray. During prayer, Jesus’ appearance suddenly changed and he, well, started glowing, was dazzling even. You could say, and many have said, that he was transfigured. Then Moses and Elijah, famous from Israel’s history, representing the Law and the Prophets, appeared and began to have a conversation with Jesus about his departure. The shocked disciples end up terrified and overshadowed by a cloud which says “This is my Chosen; listen to him”. The cloud left and regular Jesus was standing there with them. Wow. That’s what I’m talking about. Spectacular!

But is that the point??

I do need to point out that the Transfiguration event was book-ended by real life. Right before this text (eight days before according to Luke), Jesus says that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And right after it, included in the extended lectionary reading, Jesus came down to a crowd waiting for him and healed a boy who his disciples could not heal. 

Just so you know, I do understand that my yearning for a totally undeniable and spectacular God-manifestation misses the point of God’s presence through Jesus. Looking for the spectacular tends to set God apart from suffering and sadness. It is as if God is far removed from life’s miseries, which is pretty close to blasphemy, I think. 

I recently read a blog on the Transfiguration by a woman whose son is really sick and failing fast. She was not moved, perhaps even turned off, by the spectacular event on the mountain but found herself comforted by Jesus presence in the crowd. Jesus (on level ground) is there in the midst of the anguish and sorrow of life. Jesus knows anguish. Jesus knows sorrow. You are not alone.

But I know from experience that “God in the midst” of shadow-times of life is hard to feel sometimes. At those points in my life, I cling to one of the phrases from my contemplative prayer days. God is most present when God feels most absent. 

Go ahead and just sit with that...

So, that hymn I started with has one more line to that verse 
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, 
no sudden rending of the veil of clay, 
no angel visitant, no op'ning skies…
But take the dimness of my soul away.

(Spirit of God, Descend upon my Heart, public domain)

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245