Today’s gospel (Luke 9:28-43), the transfiguration, is one of those big stories from scripture, a mountaintop experience. I wonder where that story fits in your life. Or does it even have a place? How do you make sense of it? What does it mean for your life today?
It’s such a big story that it often feels a bit too fantastical, too unreal, and too far removed from real life to have any meaning for us. The temptation with these kind of stories is either to try and rationalize, explain, and understand how it happened (or whether it really even happened) or to chalk it up to a supernatural event about Jesus that could never happen in the flatlands of our lives.
I don’t want to do either of those and I hope you won’t either. I want to just let the story be the story and consider what it might mean in your life and my life.
Yesterday and the day before a delegation from St. Philip’s and I attended the annual meeting of our diocese. We spent all day Friday and half a day Saturday dealing with reports, budgets, elections, and resolutions. In his address to the diocese yesterday morning Bishop Reed spoke about “bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray.” He was describing what he has seen happening throughout the diocese this past year.
“Bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray.”
Here’s the thing that strikes me about that imagery. It’s not one or the other. It’s not either “bursts of light” or “a season of a lot of gray.” It’s both at the same time. It’s “bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray.” That’s the story of the transfiguration told in today’s gospel. And it’s the story of the transfiguration experienced in each of our lives.
The first half of today’s gospel tells about the burst of light we’ve come to know as the transfiguration.“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white,” and suddenly Moses and Elijah are there talking to Jesus (Luke 9:29). And then a cloud overshadows them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
That day Peter, John, and James saw everything in a new light. And Peter wanted to capture the moment. I know what both of those things are like and I’ll bet you do too. They are the moments in our life when the light comes on, beauty arises, everything is just right, and we never want the moment to end. But that’s not where today’s gospel ends either in our reading or our lives.
The second half of today’s gospel tells about the grayness of disfiguration. Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down from the mountain and they meet a father who tells them about an unclean spirit that seizes his only son, convulses him until he foams at the mouth, and mauls him (Luke 9:37-43). The lives of this father and son have been disfigured and distorted.
Haven’t there been times when there was no color or vibrancy in your life and each day was just another shade of gray? Haven’t there been times when you felt stuck, overwhelmed, or powerless to make a difference? Haven’t there been times when your life felt disfigured and tossed to and fro?
Look at your life today and you’ll see transfiguration and disfiguration, or as Bishop Reed puts it, “bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray.”
What is the grayness in your life today? In what ways have you or your life become disfigured? And what are the bursts of light in the grayness and disfiguration? Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about:
- Part of the grayness in my life is when if feels like I am just going through the motions. Life is on autopilot. And it’s SOS every day, same old stuff. What if there is a signal in that SOS reminding me that I am not truly alive? What if the boredom, exhaustion, restlessness, despair of days like that are a signal calling, agitating, inviting me to wake up and recognize that there is more? That is the light bursting through. What are the SOS signals in your life today?
- After sitting through our annual meeting all weekend, the last thing I wanted to do yesterday afternoon and evening was this sermon. I was tired. It wasn’t going well. And the self-critical voices were loud, unrelenting, and not just in my head. I was saying some pretty harsh stuff to myself out loud, and my wife heard it. Speaking quietly and calmly, she pierced my gray, and helped me regain some balance and perspective. She was a burst of light that helped me get unstuck. You know what that’s like, right? Haven’t there been people in your life that showed up at just the right time and said or did exactly what you needed? They helped you see yourself and your life in a different light and it made a difference. Who are the bursts of light in your gray?
The grayness of our life isn’t necessarily bad or wrong. It’s reminding us that there is something else, something more. It’s a call and an invitation to a larger life, to an enlightened life. It’s the backdrop against which we see the bursts of light.
As much as I would love to eliminate the grayness from my life and world, and live only with bursts of light, that’s just not going to happen. I don’t have that much power and neither do you.
But we do have some power in this. It’s the same power Peter, John, and James, had. It’s the power to stay awake even when we are “weighed down with sleep.” Peter, John, and James saw the burst of light, the Light of Christ, because “they had stayed awake.”
The struggle in our life is not between the “bursts of light” and “a season of a lot of gray.” The struggle is between the sleep that weighs us down and the staying awake that lets us see the “bursts of light.”
There are a thousand different things that weigh me down with sleep: fear, exhaustion, busyness, distraction, boredom, avoiding my life, doing the same old things I always do. Regardless of what is weighing me down with sleep I miss the bursts of light. It’s not because they aren’t there. It’s because I’m not there to see them.
There is more to who you and I are than what we’ve become. There is for each of us an unlived life waiting to be lived. There is hope in the midst of despair, meaning in the midst of suffering, courage in the midst of fear, peace in the midst of chaos, life in the midst of death.
In every season of gray, regardless of what that gray is, there are bursts of light giving hope, offering insight and illumination, and pointing the way.
The question isn’t whether there are “bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray.” There are. That’s the promise of today’s gospel. The only question is this: “Are we awake enough to see the “bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray?”