Ups and Downs

Mark 9:2-9     Transfiguration

Do you remember the movie, “Bruce Almighty”?   God gave Bruce some god-like powers.  One of the ways he abused these powers was to lasso the moon, and drew it closer to the earth so that his girlfriend would stand in awe looking at it, and fall more deeply in love with him.  Even the oceans desire to come closer to the moon, drawing up to it in waves over and over again.  The fact is that the moon does at times come closer to the earth than at others.  When a full moon is at a point in its orbit at which it is nearest to the earth, it appears 14% larger and 30% brighter than it usually does.  This is called a “Supermoon,” and we were blessed this year to have had three of them. Did you see one of the trinity?  Were you captured by its glorious, bright fullness against the dark night sky?   The contrast of the light and the dark enable us to see the fullness of both.

Light figures prominently in our reading and our liturgy. Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion of Epiphany.  “Six days later,” we read, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.”  Six days ago, Jesus had told his disciples that he would go through tremendous suffering, and that the elders, chief priests and scribes would reject him.  He told the people that he would be killed.  He said that he then would be raised in three days.  Not understanding, Peter rebuked Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus responded to him.

Now, almost a week later, Jesus took Peter with him, and James and John, too.  The four of them trekked up the mountain.  When they reached the summit, Jesus’ appearance changed.  His clothes became dazzling white, even brighter than new improved Tide could make them.  Jesus was transfigured right in front of their eyes. The disciples saw this man, the one they thought they knew in a different light.  He suddenly was more.  Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, Jesus reflected the light of God. What an odd contradiction that the brighter Jesus appeared, the less clearly the disciples saw him.  Seeing Jesus as both divine and human was confusing.

Then Moses and Elijah appeared.  With these heroes of the faith, representing the law and the prophets, we are connected to God’s story.  Moses and Elijah  were not dazzling in appearance as Jesus was.  God bless Peter, who in his characteristic exuberant misunderstanding, blurted out, “Let’s make three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for you. Let’s stay here forever, right on top of this mountain.”   Maybe he thought that if they stayed on the mountain, Jesus would not have to suffer and die.  They could live with this view from the top, where life was full of light, forever.

Just then, a voice came from out of the cloud that overshadowed them.  “This is my Son, the beloved.  Listen to him.”  With these words we are brought back to Jesus’ baptism when we hear  a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved,” just as Jesus was coming up out of the water.  In our story today, on top of the mountain, Moses and Elijah were not there after God spoke out of the cloud.  Only Jesus remained, but Jesus was all they needed.

They could not, as Peter had hoped, stay up there on the mountain. They had to come down.  Isn’t that true for us, too?  We have moments when we think we are on top of the world.  These times of happy dancing feet don’t last.  Peter, James, and John returned to the ups and downs of their everyday lives.  They came back to a place where people get sick, and hearts break.  They returned to where babies are born, and people die.  The good news is that Jesus came down with his disciples to the place that holds both elation and despair, moments of excruciating pain and deep happiness. The Jesus who was at the top of the mountain was also with them in the valley.

But even though we come back to our ordinary lives, we are different. We cannot be bathed in the light of Christ and stay the same.  The light of Christ illuminates the shadows and exposes the lies the world tells us, and the ones we tell ourselves.  These perpetuated untruths are things such as we are sufficient unto ourselves, and what happens to people we don’t know does not impact us.  These beliefs are part of what the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr terms “the False Self.”  He explains, “Your False Self is your necessary warm-up act, the ego part of you that establishes your separate identity…”[1]  Our False Self contains the qualities for which we strive to prove our worth, like being smart or rich or popular.  We end up using the same criteria to judge others worthiness.  Our False Self keeps us entering fully into a relationship with God.  Our True Selves recognize God’s presence not just with us, but with others.

When Jesus went back down the mountain, to walk with us in our sinfulness, he reminded his disciples that he would die, and be risen from the dead. Through the cross, Jesus chooses to show God’s love for us. In our baptisms, God joins us to Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.  “Every time you choose to love,” Father Rohr writes, “you have also chosen to die.  Every time you truly love, you are letting go of yourself as an autonomous unit and have given a bit of yourself away to something else… ”[2]

As Jesus was transfigured through God’s light, we are transformed and called through Christ. We are called to love others as God loves us.  And, I know this is really hard for Lutherans, we are called to tell them that God loves them, that Christ died for them, and we are to speak the words out loud.

The moon is about 238,855 miles away, and yet we see its light shining on all the earth.  The light of Christ is closer.  Can you see it?  Christ is as close as the baptismal waters, and the wine and bread.  Christ is close enough to touch in the passing of the peace, and hear in the reading of the scripture.  How can we come this close and not be changed?

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] Rohr, Richard.  The Immortal Diamond. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2013. 64. Our True Selves recognize God’s presence not just with us, but with others.

[2] Ibid., 65.

Author: Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.