Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Auhea wale ‘oe: Listen”
Some say the wise way to prepare for “joy or sorrow in this life is to . . . cut yourself off from emotion. Keep everyone and everything at a distance. Build a fortress around your soul. Do not risk the price of wonder or of heartache.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 452) That is an observation that has been made by Maryetta Madeleine Anschutz of the Episcopal School of Los Angeles and a Priest Associate at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California.
It may be that many of us would concur with her observation – not because we want to or because we believe it to be true – but because that is what we are inclined to do anyway. We do not need to prepare ourselves to ignore how we feel. We learned that lesson well enough as children. We have learned to build walls. We have learned to avoid conflict.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The season of Epiphany is coming to an end and the season of Lent is about to begin.
It is that time of year when we are reminded of the death of Jesus. Anschutz reminds us that there is nothing we can do to change what happened to Jesus centuries ago.
But it remains a difficult time for some of us because we are reminded, as she points out, of “the stories of loss in our own lives: of friends suffering; of a child who has fallen ill; of a career that has fallen apart; of a relationship that seems beyond the point of healing.” (Feasting on the Word, page 452) Yet despite such difficulties, Anschutz wonders: will we cut ourselves off from what we feel; will we avoid family and friends; will we shut ourselves down or “will we risk the price of weeping and suffering, celebration and surprise when life somehow is redeemed?” (Feasting on the Word, page 452)
In our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew we are told that Peter, James and John are led up to a high mountain by Jesus. They have heard the news that they must soon be on their way to Jerusalem and they are aware of Jesus’ imminent death.
It is while they are on the mountain that we catch a glimpse of their desperation. In that moment when the inexplicable occurred – when Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” and “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” (Matthew 17:2-3) – it is Peter who attempts to forestall the inevitable. “Let us make three dwellings here, one for you,” he tells Jesus and “one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)
Peter, James and John are in no mood to let Jesus go. They want to build a safe place away from the turmoil of the city and to save Jesus and themselves from what is to come. But that is something they cannot do. That is something we cannot do. (Feasting on the Word, page 454)
We know of such moments in our own lives - of not wanting to let go. And yet we realize in those moments where there is suffering – wherever that may be whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley, along a byway or by the sea – that God is present and in God’s presence we find ourselves on Holy Ground. (“Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster Sermon,” Tongues of Angels, Tongues of Men, Robert Runcie, Doubleday, New York, 1998, page 740) Anschutz writes: “These are the moments when we realize God is present in suffering and sacrifice, just as God is present in the promise and potential of our lives.” (Feasting on the Word, page 454)
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is about such a moment. We are made aware even as the disciples are made aware of who Jesus is: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; e ho‘olohe ‘oukou iä ia or ʻauhea wale ‘oe – listen – to him.” (Matthew 17:5) Like them we begin to see the light in the darkness that is to come.
There will be despair, fear, sorrow and death. But in time there will also be hope, love, joy and new life.
Anschutz quotes C.S. Lewis who writes a final word from Aslan in The Silver Chair:
“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.”
“And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins, New York, 1982, pages 25-26)
The words of Matthew and the writings of C.S. Lewis may be of little comfort to those of us who have not been to a mountaintop – to see a brilliant light and bright cloud or to hear God’s voice from above. But such sacred moments, such sacred encounters occur whenever and wherever God’s love is shared.
Oh, how we would rather look upon our lives as a joyful journey to Jerusalem than the path of sorrow to the cross. The transfiguration of Jesus offers all of us the paradox that while there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from suffering, there is also no way that we can avoid the light of God that sheds hope in our darkest moments. (Feasting on the Word, page 456)
That is what happened to Peter, James and John that day on the mountain when they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. It was on the one hand a sacred moment of profound joy and on the other it was also a moment of profound sorrow.
We become aware in that moment “that there is nothing we can do to prepare for or stand in the way of joy or sorrow. We cannot build God a monument, and we cannot keep God safe. We also cannot escape the light that God will shed on our path. We cannot escape God, Immanuel among us. God will find us in our homes and in our workplaces. God will find us when our hearts are broken and when we discover joy. God will find us when we run away from God and when we are sitting in the middle of what seems like hell.” (Feasting on the Word, page 456)
Jesus came and touched Peter, James and John and he comes to touch each one of us today – whatever the trouble or turmoil; whatever the sorrow and suffering; whatever the difficulty or despair; whatever the anger or anxiety – auhea wale ‘oe, listen to what he says: “Get up and do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7) Perhaps the power of the transfiguration to banish our fears is not in the extraordinary audio-visual effects of a dazzling light or cosmic voice, but in the simple, ordinary touch of a hand.
Some will say that God’s glory and magnificence and God’s power and majesty can never be contained in something as small as a crumb of bread or a sip that comes from the fruit of the vine. Yet on a day such as this as we come to share the bread and the cup together we are aware that the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ has come to us in a crumb of bread and a tiny cup. We are aware that we are able to hold in the palm of our hands the One who made heaven and earth and all that is.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
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