SATURDAY AFTER TRINITY SUNDAY — 2020
Hello again and welcome to another in our series of meditations and reflections during the time of the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine. I am Jim Jelinek, and with The Reverend Alan Neale, we serve the people and community of Trinity Church, Newport. My text for today is from the gospel appointed for the Daily Office today, Matthew 17:1-13:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud over-shadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist. Here ends the reading.
This story is such a central part of Jesus’ relationship with God that we hear it three times every year in our liturgies: once, when it comes up in the Daily Office, as it does today, again, on the day that we have set aside to celebrate this event, August 6th, and also, on the last Sunday after Epiphany, because it is one of the greatest of the epiphanies involving Jesus, the others being Jesus’ baptism, the several Resurrection appearances and the Ascension.
The Transfiguration is an epiphany to Jesus, God’s self-disclosure in the bright cloud, reminiscent of the cloud that went ahead of the Israelites as they escaped from slavery in Egypt—the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The Transfiguration is also an epiphany of Jesus, a time when Jesus is affirmed as God’s Son and shown to parallel the influence of the great deliverer and the greatest of the prophets of Israel.
Peter acts like many of us would, especially those of us who act on impulse when we see a good thing. He immediately wants to enshrine the moment, to leave a marker of this incredible event for everyone who ever passes by that place. If he could, he might like to try to freeze time, as we would like to do when we are experiencing something wondrous and wonderful.
I am reminded of a scene in Goethe’s Faust, when he realizes that Margarethe has fallen in love with him, the very reason he sold his soul to Mephistopheles. At that moment Faust says, “Verweile, doch; du bist so schon!” He is talking to Time Itself, saying, “Stay on, then, a moment; you are so beautiful!”
Jesus’ vision here is so real and powerful, that his disciples are caught up into it with him. They do not hear what he is talking about with Moses and Elijah, but they see it happening. And when Peter does make the comment about building the three dwellings, it is God, speaking from the cloud who cuts Peter off. Immediately, the three disciples fall to the ground with their faces in the dirt, trying to hide, like a little kid tries to hide under the blankets when he is afraid. They become like little children again. Of course, Jesus reassures them, like all the many times he says, “Be not afraid!” or something similar.
Visions are not common, but they are not rare either. The number of people who have had visions that the Church has recognized as saints over the centuries is so great that if all the churches put their calendars together, we would probably be celebrating tens of thousands of them a year, many on each day of the year. The visions the Church acknowledges and celebrates are those which include Jesus and/or Mary, or perhaps an earlier saint who was a witness to courage and hope and faithfulness.
While not everyone sees visions, all of us dream, and I find that many of our dreams are telling us something about our active life, maybe encouraging us to hang in there when things are rough, or to tell us that this really is the person we need to marry, or this is the vocation that I have been waiting to find. Think of the dreams you have had that have really marked your life. When I left Memphis, where I served under a wonderful priest and mentor, every so often I would have a dream about him. I called them my “source dreams,” because they always had something to do about being a priest and some particular dimension in my ministry at the time. Someone suggested that perhaps that was hero-worship and I really wanted to become like my mentor. But no, that was not it. I knew that he was a wonderful and faithful priest with all his gifts and limitations, and even traits that could be hard to take at times; but he was serving God and the people he had been called to serve. And God used him well.
My reaction was more like Elisha when his mentor Elijah was being taken up into heaven; he wanted to inherit a double portion of his spirit. For me it was slightly different: I knew this was a critical juncture in my life and vocation and I had to be alert to what God wanted and needed most from me whenever I had one of those dreams. They were always about becoming myself as a person and as a priest.
So why do I share that with you? I want to encourage you to be open to your dreams—as well as any visions you may have. I urge you to recognize those moments of inspiration when they come upon you, when you do something you did not know how to do but it happened through you. Visions may be too narrowly defined as something that has to do with seeing, with sight. I think visions can also be described as insight, something that molds and shapes our inner being. We know it is from God when it is full of Grace.
As Jesus said in different times and ways, “Keep alert then, for you never know when the Son of Man is coming!” Amen.
Stay safe; keep well; pray deeply.