Eighth Sunday After Epiphany: Transfiguration Sunday
There’s a danger in seeking to return to ‘normal’ – to those days and things we were so accustomed to pre-COVID. We long for those times when we didn’t worry about masking and public healthcare, about vaccines and business-rights, about being together in work and worship. Now, all of these things weigh heavily on our minds in one way or another because we so enjoyed the way things were.
On this side of it, pre-COVID life feels so footloose and fancy-free, a time when we could do anything with anyone, never having a care in the world. We want to go back to that – to that normalcy, to that which we knew best, to that which comforted us and calmed us. We want to go back to the moments we knew best. We want to go back because it’s in those times and spaces when and where we felt most pleased, most satisfied, most contented.
But the danger in going back – the danger of not moving forward – is stagnation. When waters cease moving malaria and dengue persist, bacteria and parasites flourish. When economies see little or no growth, unemployment rises and sales fall, wages flounder and worker satisfaction dips. When we are no longer willing to ensure future generations succeed, when we fail to guide our children through life, when we ignore mentoring and volunteering opportunities we fall into stagnation – we feel disconnected and uninvolved with the world around us. The danger of stagnation, of going back, of not moving forward is sickness, insecurity, selfishness, separation and death. Returning to ‘normal’…going back…not moving forward is not an option for the living.
In the gospel of Luke we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus – an event spoken of in each of the synoptic gospels (Matt. 17:1-8; Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36). Jesus takes the closest apostles – Peter, James and John – and they head off into the mountains to pray. There on the hilltop Jesus experiences the transfiguration; Luke says, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” As great as this is, it gets even better: “Suddenly, they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him (Jesus).” The apostles are in full fanboy mode now, because Moses and Elijah are the prophets, they’re the fathers of the faith, ancient men suddenly present in the apostle’s midst.
It’s a moment that Peter desires to be frozen in time – it’s a moment he wishes to remain in forever – and he proposes to Jesus that it should be so: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah” (emphasis mine). Peter wants to push the pause button on life to hang out with these great men of his faith – a completely understandable desire. He wants to hold on to this moment – so much so that he doesn’t even care if he sleeps in the open – as long as he doesn’t have to move forward, as long as he doesn’t have to return to his ‘normal’ life.
Remaining on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, though, would mean stagnation for Peter, James and John. What good would it do them to be in the presence of these prophets but have no one to tell? The apostles could certainly gain oodles of wisdom and understanding, but if it’s not shared with others that knowledge stagnates and becomes worthless. What good is good news if it’s not told to others? Peter’s request is understandable – we get wanting to not move forward…we get wanting to go back – but going there is sure and certain death.
There are moments I long for, moments that I wish I could return to: the last time I visited my grandma in the nursing home and held her frail hand; to the moment I selfishly chose to walk away from a dear friendship; to the moment in seminary when I felt most accepted and loved for who I was. I want to return to these moments because they were precious to me, and I want to hold on that…because they were hurtful to me (and others) and I want to repair that…because they were life-giving, life-bearing, life-resurrecting and I need that right now. But those moments are long-gone, and going back to them to remain in them would leave me in the past, in what was, in the things that are long-since dead. I have to move forward, I have to press on because going back would be my own sure and certain death.
We have to move forward, we must move forward because what was can’t be what is, and what is can’t be what will be. The danger lies in staying put, in holding on, in striving to maintain this for all of time. My marriage will die if I try to maintain what is and not pursue what it will be. My self will be a lie if I go back to being the person I was in 2003. My relationship with God will become void of life if I try to keep it the way it is right now without any hope and vision for what it will be.
The Church will die if it tries to go back to ‘normal’ – to those pre-COVID days that we knew so well, that we worshiped in so well, that we were comfortable with, never thinking about accessibility, health care, and connection. Our local church will die if we hang on to what was, to what we were so fond of, to what was best for us in our time way back when. Blacks and Asians, Indigenous and Migrants will continue to face racism, oppression, hatred and death if we go back to what was…if we stay in what is. The unhoused and migrant populations will continue to go unnoticed and abused if we go back to what was…if we stay in what is. The danger in not moving forward is stagnation, and stagnation is sure and certain death.
The manna we are fed is meant for today…we can’t save it, we can’t go back to it. Yesterday’s provision is rotten and moldy and will certainly kill us. The encounters we have with God on these mountaintops are meant for today…we can’t stay here forever, we can’t go back to them. The God we serve is not the God of stagnation and death, but the God of the moving and living.
We are meant for the now and the not yet – we are meant to live, to move, to grow and flourish. We are called to life and hope, to free the oppressed, to lift up the suppressed, to give mercy to those whom we have power over, to love our neighbors – to love our enemies(!). We are called to correct injustice, to care for creation, for widows, for orphans. We are called to life – to life abundant. There is no turning back.
Have you decided?
There is no turning back.
Though none go with you, will you go forward?
With the world behind you, and the cross before you, will you go forward?
There is no turning back – no turning back!
Don’t let death win – have you decided to not turn back?
Life is there, ahead of us, in abundance. Have you decided?
What a world it will be when we declare that there is no turning back!
much love. sheth.