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Eyes to see…

March 6, 2011

Scripture readings:  Exodus 24:12-18; Matt. 17:1-9

The Kindergarten class had a bulletin board illustrating what the students wanted to learn in school that year. Most of the statements were like, “behave,” “learn to sit still,” “follow the rules,” “listen to the teacher better.”

One child said “I want to know why the ocean shines like fire.”

There’s a kid who has not suppressed the gift of wonder…who is willing to go off-script.  A kid who probably is oblivious to the fact that there is a script.

Our scripture readings this week call us to embrace the gift of wonder.  They defy understanding.  We cannot offer material evidence that might convince critical historians about what happens on those mountains.  Yet, these texts speak to the human yearning to ascend out of the mundane…to touch the face of God.

In the OT reading God invites Moses up on the mountain.  Moses goes up to meet God for forty days and forty nights.  It is during this time that the liberating God of the exodus gives the law.  God makes covenant with Israel and invites them into a committed relationship that involves worship practices, ethical relationships, holiness.  For the people of Israel at the base camp, the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.

We remember that this is not the whole of the story.  Distractions surface even after experiencing God’s work of liberation from Egypt.  The glory of crossing the Red Sea fades. There are grumblings about hunger pains. Wilderness life is not easy. There is nostalgia for the security of Egypt. There will be worship of the golden calf, even after the fire on the mountain and Moses descends with the stone tablets.

Like Israel, we also get distracted by many things on the journey of liberation.  Whether our work is going to kindergarten or running a business the script of productivity can squeeze us into the mold of conformity rather than liberation.  Our eyes become fixed on the script of our to do list, our troubles of the day, our incoming text messages.

Yet when we look up, we glimpse the fire of God in bushes, in oceans and glorious spring days.  It is a glory that stirs wonder.  And so we take the kids hunting with us, we go to museums and cathedrals, we head out West… We try to capture it in photos.  It defies description.  The mountain top experience of last Sunday, last summer fades.  This is part of the journey of liberation.  There is a rhythm of ascent and descent.

This is true for Peter and for us.  For Peter, the mountain top experience brings a new understanding of who Jesus is.  It’s not as if who Jesus is changes on the top of the mountain.  This is the same Jesus who struggles with hunger and temptation in the wilderness for forty days.  It is the same Jesus who sleeps in fishing boats, eats bread at table with friends, and puts one foot in front of the other to get from place to place.  To be sure, this is a fully human Jesus.

All this time there has not been a glow as from fire, but the disciples now are given eyes to see.  What do they see? They see that the human face of Jesus is the face of God.  That the human Jesus is the One who fulfills the law given through Moses and the words of the prophets.

Transfiguration gives us eyes to see that the God of our mountain top experience is the one who walks with us day by day.  Transfiguration gives us eyes to see that eternity unfolds moment to moment and every day is full with possibilities of seeing Jesus.  Transfiguration can even happen at the family supper table where the parents and children sit down to eat every night.  The table time that begins with a simple examen of the day.

On this rainy Monday, each person is invited to share a consolation or desolation from their day.  It has been a rough day for the youngest member of the family.  Participation in the family examen is a struggle.  The family waits for the words to come…they do not.

The sound of grumbling begins to be heard from the other side of the table.  We are hungry.  It’s not fair that we have to wait. The parents are given grace to stay with the process.  To stay in this moment of transfiguration when the law is being given—this moment of formation and liberation.

The parents recall days when desolation was the experience of others around the table.  Days when the waiting has been on account of others.  On this evening there is a teachable spirit.  The words are received.  Eventually the words of lament are spoken before God and family—I had a bad day.  The meal is blessed and the glory of God lingers as the ham loaf is passed.  The meal holds a fullness of grace.

Life moves on for Peter and for us.  We cannot hold on to the moments when we are aware of transfiguration.  We cannot stay there.  Darkness and confusion follow mountain experiences of light and glory.  We see this in Peter’s story and in ours.  The glory of transfiguration is soon to be replaced by confusion at a midnight denial and a Friday crucifixion.  Peter’s flawed humanity will surface once again despite the mountain top vision.

Lent begins this week.  It is a season when we are invited to face our humanity.  We are invited to descend from the mountain into the valley of broken clay pots and cross-bearing.  It is a season of self-examination and repentance.  As we enter the season of Lent, may the Holy Spirit give us grace to see that which we are holding on to which is the old way…the way that is not Jesus.

May we be given grace to trust that Jesus goes before us on the descent from mountaintop glory to the places of desolation.  He walks with Peter.  He walks with us.  May we have eyes to see…


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