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Exodus 24:12-18
Luke 9:28-36

February 7, 2016

Year C

When I studied Old Testament from Chris Foley, a professor from the Roman Catholic seminary, I was very surprised when in the first class we talked about Leonard Cohen’s songs. We talked about “The Famous Blue Raincoat” and “A Song for Bernadette.” We talked about the story those songs told, and who wrote them and who they were written for and as time goes by, how we interpret the story told in them. Then of course we did the same process with the stories of the Old Testament.

Chris Foley taught us that this process is called Midrash. Midrash is the retelling of the story so that it makes sense for the lives of the people. We see that in today’s scripture passages. Two stories told so the people could take those stories and apply them to their lives. If we were to retell the story so we could use it to live by, how would we tell it? In the gospel lesson we hear the story of the transfiguration.

First, let’s look at what transfiguration means. The dictionary says that it is to change in form or appearance. Further reading said that transfiguration is also a spiritual change. It means to be spiritually altered and this could be brought about by an inward, or outward experience and it is almost always a positive experience.

Carl Jung would say that understanding transfiguration is to understand what it means to transcend. As I reflected on this matter I thought of course, it is about transcendence. It is to go beyond what we thought we understood about ourselves. It is to take an experience and to understand it at a new and different level, and that experience, perhaps would develop and change both our inner and outer perspectives.

In the Old Testament story, Moses was told to go up on the mountain where he would receive the tablets of stone, on which would be written the law. When Moses received this message he left without hesitation. He went at once to the Israelites and informed them as to where he and Joshua were going. He then told Aaron and Hur to take their places as head of the community while they were away. Having finished the preparations Moses and Joshua began their long trek up Mount Sinai. We know, there was many a troubled time while the story unfolded.

The story goes like this:

Moses and Aaron walked through the trees that covered the bottom of the mountain. It was shaded from the sun and they were surrounded by the scent of pine. Moses and Joshua wound their way up the mountain, surrounded by the beauty of the forest they walked in silence. The sound of birds singing and small animals scurrying about was all they heard.

The presence of God settled on the mountain and the clouds were everywhere, heavy and oppressive. Moses and Joshua continued to ascend. Under their feet was a soft bed of moss and rotting leaves that made walking easy. As they continued up the mountain the trees were becoming fewer and the path was becoming rocky and steep. They stumbled and strained as they made their way upward. After a length of time they stopped to rest. The mountain was completely silent. All was still and tranquil. The clouds were thicker and now it was difficult to see. They were not sure how far they had come, nor did they know how far they had yet to go. They thought it must be at least half way for they were already tired.

They stopped again to rest and as they sat in the quiet stillness their strength slowly returned. Once again they set out on the rocky trail and the only sound was the sound of their laboured breathing. Suddenly the music of many birds came to them as they stopped and listened to this far off singing.

Then it was quiet again. They moved forward and the clouds were moving in, heavy and wet. They moved through the cloud and neither of them spoke. After what seemed forever, they came to a plateau. They stopped. They sat down and they waited. They looked around, they were exhausted, and the experience felt mysterious and there was so much that was unknown.

Moses wondered out loud if there was really going to be a message, or did God just ask him to come up here for nothing. Moses was no different than you or me; he was impatient and wanted this to happen. Like, here I am God; I am ready, send the message, now. Or, maybe he had that gut feeling that all was not well back at the bottom of the mountain.

As we know, Moses and Joshua did not go up the mountain for no reason. We know that they received the law and then they went back down the mountain having experienced the presence of Yahweh. They saw this as a message that they should continue on the path they were on. This was a time when the journey felt worthwhile. Sitting on the mountain in the midst of forest, stream and towering peaks must have been a moment full of wonder, a moment full of awe.

A New York Story:

A small girl in New York City waited every day for the neighbour woman to come home. When she arrived the little girl went into her apartment, had a snack and she waited for her mother to come from work, then they went home to the next-door apartment. This arrangement lasted for several years and one day the woman who was the caretaker asked permission of the mother to take the child, who was about twelve now, to go to the wedding of her best friend.

The day arrived and the little girl was dressed in her best clothes. The two of them walked hand in hand to the huge cathedral. They approached the building and they walked up the marble steps – the little girl looked down and she took each step slowly and firmly. She stooped down and ran her hand over the design etched in the marble. They ascended and stood in front of the two huge oak doors. Each door had shinning brass handles. The little girl looked up and her friend pushed the doors open. They stepped inside and at first it was dark – the little girl tightened her grip on the woman’s hand. They walked forward to the light of the sanctuary and their feet sank down deep on the plush red carpet.

The girl lifted her head just before they entered the sanctuary and before her were rows and rows of richly grained oak pews. The girl looked to her left and the sun shone through the stained glass window and the light made tiny rainbows dance throughout the sanctuary. On her right were more stained glass windows and more rainbows. She looked straight ahead and there was a huge organ with pipes close by and a woman was playing music that filled every corner of the sanctuary. Behind the organ was a wooden cross hanging at the centre of the space and on either side of it, candles burned, sending off a soft glow that encircled the space.

She turned and saw a pulpit with a cloth draped over it and on the cloth was a picture in brilliant orange and reds; it seemed to be on fire and there was blue and green around the edge. These colours appeared to her to be the most brilliant she had ever seen and they signalled life. She looked up and high above her was the ornate vaulted ceiling with detailed paintings of angels. Her eyes widened and she looked all around her again and then her mouth formed a perfect “O” and she mouthed, “WOW.”

Full of wonder, full of awe.

The Gospel Story:

Peter, James, John and Jesus went up a high mountain. They had followed Jesus before but things seemed different this time, though they were not sure, they could understand what it was that was different. There seemed to be heaviness in the air. The clouds were heavy and they felt as though there was a sense of mystery in the day. Peter was caught up in his own thoughts. He recalled the first time he had met Jesus and how eager he had been to follow him and to be part of this life style. He thought about the work they did – the healing, the feeding of the poor and how they cared for those in prison. He believed in what they were doing even if it meant some sacrifice. He believed that the changes they were making, however small, were making the lives of the people easier. He wanted to continue this work.

They walked on in silence, each thinking about life and their work and how good it was sometimes. They had been climbing all morning when they stopped to rest. Peter closed his eyes and breathed in the silence. It felt good to be so still. When Peter opened his eyes Jesus stood before him and his face shone with light, like the sun and his clothes were brilliant. It was in that moment that this work felt special and worthwhile. He was amazed at what he saw next – Moses and Elijah appeared and they spoke with Jesus. Peter had a sense of the importance of this event and he understood that it was mysterious and astounding. A cloud passed over them and they sense the presence of the spirit in their midst. The message is passed on from spirit to them. Like the law on another mountain, the people learn from the story.

When Peter looked up James, John and Jesus were still with him and they too were astounded at what was happening around them. They turned and in silence made their way back down the mountain to their people, full of wonder, full of awe.

2007 A canoe trip:

A voice at the tent door stirred us from our sleep. “Time to get up if you want to see the sunrise.”

Moans. Groans. Slowly, sleepily we climb out of our sleeping bags and we dress. Yawning, we trudge down a steep bank to the beach. We put on our life jackets and dragged the oars to the canoes. It is still dark, but the early morning fogs hangs just above the water on Sandfly Lake.

Just above the trees, on an island in the water, you can see the first hint of light. We climbed into our canoes and paddled to the middle of the lake. Still sleepy, we begin to sang,
“She Carries Me,” slowly and softly we sang a haunting melody and then we stopped. It was very quiet. There was the sound of water lapping against the canoe, the pelicans gathered on the island but they were silent too. All around us the morning mist still lingers. We bowed our heads in silent prayer, we sang again, a Loon cried out another answered and when we looked up, the sky was full of colour; it was full of pink, purple, blue and yellow. The sun, a flaming orange, emerged in the middle of the colour.

We sat in silence and watched as the colour and the sun become one and then we turned and slowly paddle back to shore. Full of wonder. Full of awe.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood