Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Transfiguration Sunday: Moving Beyond Narratives of Self-Preservation

I think I would have wanted to stay there, too.

Amidst the madness that marked a first-century Palestinian and Jewish world captive to an oppressive Roman Empire, I don’t think Peter was out of line to want to permanently tabernacle on the mountain with an illuminated Jesus and the ghosts of Moses and Elijah. There are days when I wish for a similar experience- for my family and me to be whisked away from the chaos and mounting pressure only to find refuge on some sort of sacred island isolated from the noises of a despairing world. 

Throw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in there as forever personal companions- even better. 

Yet the call to discipleship is not towards escapist retreats to holy hills only accessible to a privileged few. Amidst the many pressing realities of our day, for those who follow the crucified Christ, we must not be lured into narratives framed around self-preservation; we must reject theological plot lines that pull us away from the urgent matters of our day and the concerns of our most vulnerable neighbors. Instead, the Christian is to be informed and active, innovative and subversive, intentional and generous, open and awake, alert and self-giving in these very places.

As Jesus said to his disciples eight days prior to his transfiguration, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

We are to mirror the very nature of God who is self-giving, other-regarding, community-forming love.**

Yet, for individuals and religious institutions, congregations and faith-based entities, when finances are tight, pews are half empty, and Christendom is almost completely deconstructed, we are tempted to explore measures of self-preservation and the protection of what is left. When socio-political and ethical conversations become uncomfortable, "biblical truth" becomes open to new (read: reformed) interpretation, and our methods of ministry and governance require adaptation- we may want to flee from change and huddle with the familiar.  When we are dared to risk something, we may cling to everything and give next to nothing- fearing the loss of all. 

In these moments, we need the clouds to break and a voice to call out from the heavens, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

And like the disciples, rather than tabernacle above, we break our cozy camp and enter into the brokenness of our congregations and communities no matter our perceived limitations in resources, ideas, or influence. We open our sleep-heavy eyes and ears to transfigured imaginations as we remember our call to carry cross in the midst of the poverty and the pain, even the shifting winds of our emerging world. 

We allow the good news of the gospel to be illumined in our hearts and minds as we embody reconciliation in the midst of our fractured and fragmented contexts. We listen to where the cries of our communities intersect with the call of Christ, only to carry cross and follow wherever the voice of our Teacher leads. 

This is the message of Transfiguration Sunday. It's also a good reminder for the church and each of us as we enter into the Lenten season.  

*Image Above: Transfiguration by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824
**"Trinitarian doctrine describes God in terms of shared life and love rather than in terms of domineering power. God loves in freedom, lives in communion, and wills creatures to live in a new community of mutual love and service. God is self-sharing, other-regarding, community-forming love."  Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding 73