Reflection for Sunday – February 21
Readings: Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Philipians 3:17—4:1; Luke 9: 28b-36
I’ve often understood this Transfiguration reading as something of a trailer for an upcoming epic film. Jesus, I saw, was sharing coming attractions with his dear friends Peter, James and John. He was showing them the bright, resurrected future that awaited them. He includes the three apostles in an elite summit meeting, showing them heroes of salvation history. Jesus’ face even changes in appearance and his clothing becomes dazzling white. Peter is impressed with this time of bright revelation and, when it fades, suggests that they stay there on the mountain.
This Lent—2016—I am drawn to reflect on the darkness in the story, not just the bright revelation. Peter’s request to stay with the consoling vision draws no response from Jesus. Luke tells us:
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.
So a cloud envelops them all. They are afraid. They are in shadow. And the voice from the cloud directs them to listen to Jesus. But this is a silent Jesus. Listening to this Jesus means walking with him. And the journey is exodus and the destination Jerusalem. Luke, our storyteller, points us to the dark struggles of exodus and the violent darkness and transformation of Jerusalem.
I’ve just reread a favorite book, Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her words helped me notice the darkness in this story.
She writes that we have demonized darkness if we only speak of holiness as an enlightenment. This emphasis on light reveals our resistance to unknowing. We resist not knowing; we ask the Gospel to have a message, a decodable meaning. We are disappointed to discover it is an invitation to a relationship.
We look on darkness and unknowing as a punishment; we cling to light and to certainty; when we call darkness a punishment, we can think that by our action we can change it. We can think we are still in charge.
Is there a vision I might need to lose, a darkness I might be called to enter? Peter, like us, wants to build a tent in the joyful holy places. Peter, like us, is called to let go of his bright ideas about God so that he may journey with Jesus who is in the cloud and shadow.
Can you tell a story about a time when your vision of God failed? Was it a time when you knew darkness? Did you realize God was there with you?
We don’t get to stay in the glory and light. We don’t get to settle in for life with one image of God. We can only turn our hearts to God present in darkness.
Paradoxically, it is darkness that puts us on the way, the way of depth and vulnerability, a way of relationship with Jesus and each other. This way means we stand with each other in the cloud, listen for Jesus, hear no words, but know he is there.
Perhaps we are meant not to interpret what is happening in this and any scripture story, but to enter into the story?
As Barbara Taylor Brown says:
What if the Bible is less a book of certainties
than it is a book of encounters,
in which a surprisingly long parade of people
run into God, each other, life –
and are never the same again?