God is a mystery. A holy mystery. Every day, human events can take on a sense of the divine power at any moment. Mystery draws us in and provides certainty and at the same time alludes our full comprehension. Leaving us with a “What just happened?” moment.
Holding a newborn grandchild. Surrounding a beloved uncle at his death bed. Watching a leaf fall and flutter from a tree branch through the air to the ground. Witnessing the migration of geese in perfect formation. Moments such as these can capture our attention or if not careful, we can miss them altogether.
I preached on the Transfiguration of the Lord last Sunday. The event of the Transfiguration marks the transition between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. In Luke chapter 9, Jesus takes three disciples up a mountain to pray. Jesus prays, but scripture tells us the disciples were “heavy with sleep.” I understand that because my eyes can get heavy when I sit still to pray or meditate. I think I saw a few eyes get heavy during my sermon last Sunday.
Meanwhile on the mountain, Jesus is lifted up and takes on a bedazzling glow; face, clothes and all. He lights up like a Christmas tree and with him appear two great prophets. Moses was also glowing on one side of Jesus, and Elijah glowed on the other. It must have been like fireworks on the 4th of July. The disciples woke up and instead of being wowed by the sight, they are confused and afraid! They were so upset that they couldn’t hear what Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were talking about. Or maybe they heard, but it was a case of selective deafness.
The three glowing powerhouses were talking about Jesus’ departure which was about to happen in Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, arrested and crucified. They are talking about Jesus’ death. No wonder Peter, James, and John could not hear about Jesus’ departure, they didn’t want him to die. They didn’t want Jesus to leave them. What a horrible thought that must have been for the disciples nearest and dearest to Jesus. I am sure they could not take it into their consciousness.
So the disciples failed to see the mystery of the event, Moses and Elijah with Jesus, and they didn’t comprehend their conversation with Jesus probably because it was too difficult. Scripture says they were silent and told no one. It is like a door closed and no one heard of this amazing, mysterious divine event. Yet the story is there for our reading and the series of events for our learning.
Is it necessary that those special God moments are told? Isn’t God so immense and so mysterious as to offer them always and for all time? So that if one is missed, another happens along that does catch our attention.
I was with my dear friend, Rosie, when she passed out of this life in 2010. I don’t think I have ever told anyone about that moment until now. I don’t think I wanted to because it was so powerful and precious, and I felt honored to be with her. Or maybe the pain of losing Rosie has kept me from sharing our time together when she took her final breath. I offer it to you now. Today is her birthday. She would have been 76 years old. She looked at me with eyes that were not seeing me but were focused beyond. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of unimagined possibility.
Wednesday evening I placed crosses of ashes on those in attendance at Ash Wednesday services. This ancient sign speaks of the fragility and uncertainty of human life, and marks the time of self-examination. Ashes begins Lent and our journey of 40 days (excluding Sundays) lead us to Holy Week and Easter. In Lent, we can take time for self-reflection, prayer, even fasting and find time to be with God. During these 40 days, life will continue to happen, but taking extra time to walk in the woods, read, journal, and ask important questions can help us cope and respond differently to life’s twists and turns. Perhaps we will be more awake to the mysteries God places in our lives.
The Rev. Patricia Stout is the pastor at Old Stone Presbyterian Church and a substitute teacher in the Delaware City School District.