By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
February 22, 2009
Read: Mark 9:2-9
This morning I’m going to begin with a little meditation. So I ask that you close your eyes, relax, listen to my words and let your imagination put yourself in the story.
Walk up the hill with Jesus, Peter, John and James…..Feel the hot afternoon sun on your face…..Listen to feet hit the dusty path….Shoo away a few pesky bugs…You finally reach the top and wonder why you’re there…Peter opens a flask of water and passes it around….Jesus seems pre-occupied….He stands up and looks to the sky….The warm, still air makes you sleepy….Suddenly you notice Jesus’ clothes becoming blindingly white, so bright they hurt your eyes…Two other men appear and stand talking with Jesus…You hear Peter speaking, but you are too terrified to move….abruptly, the brightness is dimmed by a cloud moving overhead….From the cloud comes a strong voice….”This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”….Then, only Jesus.
Now, open your eyes. What struck you about putting yourself into the story? We did this in bible study and some of the sharing revealed a sense of it being a regular, ordinary day and in the midst of the ordinary something extraordinary happened. And the sense of being a child tagging along and being able to see in a way that sometimes only children can, that God is truly present in our ordinary life.
If you’ve ever done hiking and climbed up a steep hill or mountain you know that it is easier going up than it is going down. It is much harder on the knees going down and not as easy to sense whether you have a secure foothold on the way down. I think there is something to this transfiguration happening on top of the mountain before the trek back down.
We don’t use that word, transfigured, much in our conversations today, so let me tell you a little about it. The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek word used here is metemorphothe — (meta-mor-FOE-theh) which is where we get our word metamorphosis.
We don’t use that word, metamorphosis, very often either, so let me tell you about it. Metamorphosis literally means a change of body. The best example is a caterpillar — not the big yellow bulldozers, but the green creepy worms.
Calling a caterpillar a worm isn’t very exact, but it’s close enough for me. If you’re a gardener, you prefer not to have caterpillars on your plants, because caterpillars eat plants. They eat voraciously. They eat everything in their path.
But the reason that they eat so voraciously is that they are storing up energy for a great big change. At just the right time, a caterpillar will spin a silk-like cocoon — with the caterpillar inside. You’ve probably seen a caterpillar’s cocoon. Sometimes the caterpillar will affix the cocoon to a tree — or a house — or it might suspend the cocoon by a thread from a tree limb.
But that isn’t the big deal. The big deal is what comes next. What comes next, as most of you know, is that at the right time the caterpillar will start to struggle inside that cocoon. After a long struggle, the caterpillar will break through the cocoon to once again emerge into the world. But when it does, it will no longer be an ugly caterpillar. It will be a beautiful butterfly. It won’t crawl anymore. It will fly. Gardeners will no longer be afraid of it, but will be delighted when it visits their gardens. In fact, some gardeners plant special bushes to attract butterflies.
That’s what metamorphosis means. That’s what transfiguration means. It’s a change — a big change — a huge change.
Brice Hughes recently moved from full-time hospice work to full-time parish ministry. Hughes has been at the bedside of many persons who have had experiences of “seeing past the veil.” He writes, Among our hospice, we frequently explained this with the metaphor that as one nears death, the boundary between this life and the next becomes thinner, more permeable…We have had our patients report lots of visits. Several of them have reported visits from Jesus; others have visits from passed-on family members. A fascinating number (men and women) have reported feeling the presence of babies in their bed. (Wonder what the meaning of “babies” is?)
At any rate, after over three hundred deaths in our hospice, all of the Near Death Experiences have resulted in an increase of the sense of peace. One patient I became particularly close to had a typical experience. While in the hospital, (he was not a hospice patient), his heart stopped. Aggressive intervention returned his heartbeat. When I came on-shift the next day, he had been moved to ICU. As I entered his bay, his face broke into a big grin. The first words out of his mouth were: “I’ve seen the light.” He described a fairly typical Near Death Experience: bright light, overwhelming sense of peace, etc. The upshot of this…was that he insisted his doctor issue a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order. To get his doctor to make him a No Code, he practically had to twist the doc’s arm. He was THAT convinced by what he had witnessed.
When Jesus took his disciples to the mountaintop they came to see Jesus “in a different light.” The Jesus who accompanied them down the mountain was profoundly different from the Jesus who led them up there. And even though they did not fully understand what had happened to them, they knew that THEY were not the same men who had followed Jesus up the mountain. Jesus gave his disciples the mountaintop gift to
help prepare them for the challenges to come.
Not all of us have these sorts of events in our lives. But enough people have had these experiences, that it makes me think there is indeed something to it. And reminds me of Jesus’ words, “blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”
One could say that Jesus was transfigured with a disappointing conclusion. God said “listen to him.” That was it, listen to him. And it was over, and they came down the mountain to life as we all know it. In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures today Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and there was Elisha, left seemingly alone to return to life as we all know it.
But I think that’s the point. That in our very ordinary seeming lives, if we listen closely and if we keep our eyes open we may see the glory of God, the face of Jesus around us. When we close our eyes at night to sleep and we review our day, what do we see. Do we recognize the blessings we had, or do we focus on what went wrong?
Finally, a story about a shipwreck. The lone survivor washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He cried out to God to save him; and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none came. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a rough hut and set up a place where he could at least sleep and try to survive. But one day, after wandering off to hunt for food, he came back to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up into the sky. The worst had happened, and he grieved and despaired. Early the next day, however, a ship drew near the island and rescued him. “How did you know I was here?” he asked the crew. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
God speaks in the midst of our everyday lives; God speaks into the middle of our messes; God speaks in the ordinary. May we remain open to hearing and listening to that voice. God’s promises are real and may we live in the hope of everlasting life. Amen.
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