Reflectionary, Transfiguration, Year A

Overshadowed

Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.

Exodus 24:18 (Transfiguration Sunday)

In the short-lived hiking phase of my life, I made it to the top of half-a-dozen mountains in New Hampshire, and I carry a vivid memory of the view from one on an overcast day. Atmospheric conditions masked the reality I knew from a past trip to this mountaintop; instead of 360 degrees valleys and peaks, it looked like a sea of billowing waves in shades of bright grey, the mountains like little islands, with barely a difference in color-shading to mark where the sky began. It was the same view, and not the same; something I expected, yet something I had never seen before.  

“Moses went up into the mountain of God,” Exodus 24:13 tells us, onto a mountain covered with a cloud, but not just a cloud; it was the glory of the LORD. Moses waited for six days while that glory “was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain;” at the foot of the mountain, the people could see it. God put on a show for them, but when Moses did not come down again for forty days, in their fear that he was gone for good and that there God was not going to save them, they melted all their gold down to create an idol to worship instead. 

Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with him. They were fine until “a bright cloud overshadowed them” and the divine voice spoke, echoing the heavenly affirmation at Jesus’ baptism. Awestruck, fearful, the disciples threw themselves on the ground. They were in the presence of – what?!? Could they trust their perceptions?

In this era of propaganda and marketing, social media and political campaigns, our perceptions are being messed with all the time. What are we noticing? Has truth changed? How do we know if what we are seeing is real or true? 

On the Day of Transfiguration, nothing essential about Jesus changed. What changed is what the disciples knew about him. They had known a friend, a teacher, a wise person; now they experienced the brightly blinding presence of the Divine declaring Jesus to be Son of God.

That day on the mountaintop, I let myself rest in my weather-addled perceptions. Maybe the clouds had something to say to me. To know the truth, be open to noticing something unexpected. We are the ones who will be changed. 


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Liturgy, Transfiguration

A prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Holy One,

We have been to the high places,
the extreme edges of bliss,
the far reaches of where-to-find-you,
the mind-bending moments of truth,
the spill of something ineffable,
the fragrance of words-can’t-describe.

We have been there, most of us, once or twice, if that.
Mystics have gone more often, and poets, surely. 
Some still wait for a trip to the mountaintop,
or it is a childhood recollection confused with dreams.

When we went there, we felt
scared
delighted
relieved
faint
perplexed
joyful
unnerved.

We said things,
possibly laughable.

And then it was over.
The moment passed.
The brightness dimmed.
Clothes, faces, sounds
returned to normal.

You know we need you more
when we come down again.

Be with us, here on the ground.
Help us to find the words and the actions
to make you real to ourselves, 
to those who need you most.

You’re welcome to use the prayer and image in worship.

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Prayers for Pastors, Transfiguration

Transfiguration (a prayer for pastors)

St. Pete Beach Sunset
St. Pete Beach Sunset

I’ll admit it, Holy One.

I struggle with this story.
I struggle with it,
and what it means.
I definitely struggle with
how to preach it,
year in, year out.
I grapple with the idea
not of what light once was
but of what we have made it,
not a gift from you to help us see,
or a means of sorting out order from chaos,
but as a badge of superiority,
an ID of supremacy.
It’s more than a metaphor now;
we have given it literal power.
A brown man with his brown friends
climbed a mountain,
saw historic figures
and recognized them,
suddenly looked brighter,
with clothes whiter than bleach
could make them,
and I could argue for
a spotlight effect
or something,
but in truth,
we’ve made the narrative
of light v. darkness
so sick,
it’s hard to do.
Yet it seems to be true
that your light
wherever it shines
puts things in focus
makes us able to see
better, even clearly,
for the first time
what matters.
In this season
of argument and fear,
help us to see
better, even clearly,
what matters now
(what always matters):
safety from violence
enough to eat
clean water
for all children
for all people
wherever they live.