February 27, 2022
Transfiguration Sunday, 2/27/2022, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen
I was talking with a few of you a couple of days ago about the very beginning of the pandemic. We remembered how deathly afraid we were at the start, so worried that it would take the lives of the people closest to us. I recalled regular crying episodes, when I was just falling apart over things, wondering how long the ordeal would last, and what it would lead to. It was so scary; some of it continues to be very frightening.
But we also remembered that in the initial fog of fear and grief of spring 2020, we found something almost mystically sacred within it, too. Life and death suddenly came into dramatic focus, and we came to consider what really mattered most. We found ways to worship remotely. We read more, prayed more, rested more, walked more, shopped less, ate better. We reached out to those we loved, and even if we couldn’t see each other, made sure to let them know we were thinking of them. Remember how children used to put signs in their picture windows? Remember when people would stand on their porches to serenade the health care and emergency workers?
Two years and three vaccines later, some of the charm has worn off. Whatever had felt holy and profound in those first few weeks, has stretched into spirit-numbing, monotonous dreariness, as we’ve learned to veil our faces from germs, interactions, and unknown dangers. Wake us up when it’s over, we might be saying. We’re worn out from the weight of it all.
I think that’s why I’m drawn to this funny part of the disciples dozing off on the mountain[i]. In dazzling glory, they stand with the All-Star Team of their faith lives, but can’t even keep their eyes open! Peter shakes himself awake enough to realize it would be wise to try to capture all of this, so he can refer to it when he has the energy, but still he just barely registers the meaning of the radiance around him.
He catches enough to hear Moses and Elijah speaking to Jesus about his departure. The Greek word here is actually, “his exodus,” Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem: an exodus through oppression and suffering, into freedom and life.
Peter and his companions are veiled by the cloud, overshadowed by the Spirit. The cloud, you may remember, is the sign of God’s presence. When the first Exodus took place, the cloud protected God’s people from danger, leading them through the desert. Elijah, too, had seen a cloud rising after drought, and recognized God’s answering of prayer. Remember how angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her? The veil of power would envelop her with protection, revelation, and in fact, conception of God’s own life within her.
I wonder how much of the glory of God is still glittering within the cloud of this long season of fatigue.
I know the world feels heavy right now. Inflation rises; politicians argue. Utter madness has broken out in Ukraine. Parents worry about their teens’ mental health. Employers ask for more than what’s possible from their staff. Health diagnoses frighten, and caregivers feel stretched at both ends. How might God’s shadow of compassion still overpower the fear and despair? Can we catch a glimmer of grace through the masks of our pain?
We call today, Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Lent begins, but it’s still within the season of Epiphany. During Epiphany we focus on the power of God’s goodness sparkling through hidden places: stars in the night coaxing us toward joy in the dead of winter, gallons of wine hiding in back-room water tanks, God’s sacred justice and direction being proclaimed in small town synagogues, nets brimming with abundance and wonder pulled from deep, overfished waters. Even as we pivot between the seasons, Transfiguration offers one last glimpse of the shining reality of God’s goodness peeking from behind the cloud of our daily lives, bright enough to shake us out of these pandemic doldrums.
A few weeks ago, singer Dua Lipa appeared on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, and asked him about how his faith informs his comedy. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the interview here[ii].) Colbert has always been open about his strong Catholic faith tradition. He begins by describing how his religious upbringing taught him that love and sacrifice are connected, the centrality in of “giving yourself to other people,” and of recognizing that “death is not defeat.” He contrasts the ways we are normally programmed to respond to pain with fear, fear which may lead to despair or destructive behaviors. Humor offers us a different reaction.
Colbert concludes, “No matter what happens, you are never defeated, you must understand and see this in the light of eternity and find some way to love and laugh with each other[iii].”
I wonder if the glittering grace shining up on that mountain lightens Jesus’ pain as he embarks on his exodus. Moses could have reminded him that the road to freedom has always been hindered by the power of pharaohs and plagues and unpassable seas. Elijah would have recalled the suffering in the wilderness, the torment of loneliness and hunger that his journey encountered.
All of the fear and loss might feel like it masks the love and grace of God, but God’s power is still revealed there, even somehow in the cloud itself, overshadowing us with comfort, supporting us to laugh at the powers of death and under a veil of compassion, accompaning us even toward the cross.
The gospel story today concludes in silence. The disciples say nothing to anyone about what they have seen on the mountain. The journey toward the cross begins without explanation. But in just seven weeks, some women will encounter two other figures, again dazzling with light who will give them courage to laugh in the face of death. Running through the morning shadows, they will share good news that will change the world.
We don’t have to wait until then. Kindness already is glistening even in the gloom and inviting us to share grace and mercy to one another. Life and death are suddenly back in focus, and we get to declare to one another what really matters: care of neighbor, hope for the despairing, justice for those who have been oppressed.
We can start by watching for those who are hurting around us and offering a hand. We could guess that a kind word, or running an errand for someone, speaking openly about another’s grief, or dropping off a meal, might soften the pain for others, and allow a glimpse of heaven’s glory to sneak in.
We received news this week that the community at Lyngblomsten, a senior, healthcare facility, is holding Gloria Dei in the light of their prayers today. They’re praying for us! Maybe we can pray for them as well, and find ways to share God’s compassion with anyone who lives alone.
Even here this morning, in the cloud of this abbreviated gathering, with only a few of us here, in a temporary shelter, from behind masks and hidden behind nothing but a simple wafer, we will come face to face with the Holy.
Still behind the veil of our daily lives, we will taste the forgiveness for mistakes, the gift of peace that passes all understanding, and the promise of everlasting love. A voice is once again declaring to you, “You are my child.” Arise, Shine! Your light has come.
[i] Today’s gospel reading is Luke 9:28-36