Peter, James and John nearly sleep through it all – a foreshadowing of course of their inability to stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane. Whether it is the glory of God or the agony, the joy or the pain, we mere humans are inclined to choose sleep over wakefulness, because being awake asks so much. But never perhaps in the church’s history has it been so imperative that we keep awake to what God is doing and to refuse to shut god up in boxes and booths of our own making...
This week I had agreed to attend the Mayor’s breakfast organized by Rotary up in Paddington. I thought it would be a good way to meet a few people and get a bit of sense of what’s being talked about in the community. It was the day after George Pell’s conviction, and that morning I found myself hesitant to put on my dog collar and go out and represent the church in that public forum. I did it, and I was made welcome – people are very forgiving. But I realized that I had to go from the place of humility – not in any sense bringing God with me, but rather expecting that I would find God already there. And indeed, I did.
This is not a time in the church for looking back at our mountain-top experiences of God’s glory and our feeble attempts to encapsulate that in beautiful buildings and magnificent liturgies. It is all too easy for us like Peter to look back and try to interpret present reality from a place of past comfort and relative dominance. To do so is to imprison ourselves and the church in the status quo and to stop listening to the God who speaks to us from the cloud.
It is not easy to be enveloped by the Shekinah, the glory of God. In today’s story the text records that “they were terrified when they entered the cloud.” To be in this cloud is to be in a place where we know nothing; where all the familiar landmarks are taken away; where nothing is predictable. In that place of unknowing, a voice comes with the words heard at Jesus baptism, “this is my son, my chosen”; - a reference point is given. But then come the new words, “Listen to Him.”
Listen to Him. What is it that Jesus had just been talking about, to which these disciples are now invited to listen? Eight days before he goes up the mountain, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to suffer, die and rise and that they too will need to carry their own cross. In Jewish thinking the eighth day is the day of new creation. So here, Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets, is seen transfigured and preparing to re-create the world, through suffering, dying and rising. This is the new truth to which the disciples are invited to attend. It is not a comfortable truth. No wonder that when they come down from the mountain they are silent and don’t tell anyone what they had seen.
If we are awake we will discover that recreation, transformation, generally comes by way of this pattern of suffering, dying and rising again. This is painful and mostly we would rather remain asleep. For our church at this time there is much that needs to die in order that new life may come – old habits and ways of doing things; old perceptions and teachings that can no longer contain the truths brought to us by science and by a wider community often more compassionate and awake to need than we are.
So, what are we to do? How are we to wake up in our age, and beginning again humbly, how are we to live in to the promise we know to be true that God will re-create and transform? How are we to turn our eyes away from the past and towards the future?
First, we need to listen, as God directed in this story – listen to the truth of the paschal mystery, the necessity of suffering and death to the process of resurrection.
Next, we need to let go of our certainties and be prepared to allow the cloud of unknowing to envelop us. We cannot begin to encompass the magnitude of God. But we can refuse to shut God up in boxes and booths of and allow God to be God.
Then we can wait in expectancy and hope. We know there is light – light enough to transfigure Jesus and his companions utterly. We need just enough faith to wait for that light to suffuse the cloud and enable us to put one foot in front of the other as we continue on the path of faith.
It is a humble, simple way to walk – just one foot after the other. But we can do this. Waiting on God in a prayer that is simple and heartfelt – the prayer that asks for mercy and knows that it will be heard. The prayer to which God calls us each and every day.
So, may we trust in the light, put one foot in front of the other and walk on, knowing that we and the church of which we are a part are being transfigured day by day. In the name of Christ who cannot be contained. amen
by Penny Jones