February 27, 2022
The face of Moses shines after he speaks with God, and on the mountain where Jesus goes to pray, his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white, then suddenly Moses & Elijah appear with him. Peter, James, and John are all witnesses to this and Peter offers to build dwellings, a form of a temple, for each of them. But that is not to be. Awe quickly turns to fear as they are overshadowed by a cloud and hear a voice say, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Just as suddenly as the cloud comes, it clears and only Jesus is with them.
There is a great deal of drama in this story. And, there is a great deal of symbolism. When Moses comes down from the mountain, the people see his face and know he has been in God’s presence. Moses brings them God’s commandments for living a covenantal life. What many refer to as “the Law” is best understood as a way of life that puts God and God’s creation first. Moses is remembered for both leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and bringing them the gift of God’s commandments.
Elijah is revealed by some, as the prophet who saved the faith. Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal and thus convinces the wayward people of Israel to return to their faith and worship of God. Elijah’s name means “Jehovah in my God.” He is also remembered for being taken up to heaven in a cloud, and the people expect his return to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus on the mountain symbolizes the announcement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior whose coming has been foretold AND that Jesus brings God’s commandments for a new way of living. The apostles see God’s glory. Paul writes about this in his second letter to the Corinthians.
He says that Moses veils his face because the people’s hearts are hardened and they are afraid to see God’s glory. They are focused on the old covenant, but those who turn to Christ can see God’s glory unveiled. Through Christ, God’s glory can be reflected in us.
This new way of living that Christ brings is why we are here today. Experiencing the presence of God in our lives can, at times be frightening, we can desire to build a dwelling on the mountaintop where we have experienced this closeness with God, but that is not the way of life Christ came to teach us. Our faith is not to be kept in a dwelling, experienced only here on Sunday mornings. Our faith is to be shared with others.
This leads us to the second part of the gospel story. Jesus and the apostles come down from the mountain and experience what we experience. They are overwhelmed by people and their needs. I can certainly relate – and I’m sure that most you can as well. We have an experience on the divine, we feel God’s presence so strongly it we can almost touch it. It may a mountain top experience at Camp Mitchell or on some other beautiful mountain. It might even be here. A reading, a hymn, or a prayer may touch a nerve within us and we are profoundly moved. Then we leave this sacred space and return home only to discover the toilet has overflowed or a member of our family has fallen ill or is upset about something mundane. In other words, we experience life on earth.
In this passage, Jesus responds in a very human way. A man who has sought help from his disciples comes to Jesus asking him to heal his son who the disciples were unable to heal. Jesus says, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” This verse is one of the few in which we experience the truly human side of Jesus – his is frustrated. Jesus; however, takes a breath and says, “Bring your son here.” And, then Jesus rebukes the demon that has possessed the boy, he heals him, and gives him back to his father.
I find great comfort in this. Even Jesus gets frustrated with people from time to time just as we do. He throws the money changes out of the temple, and here he expresses his frustration with this request for healing. Was he frustrated with his disciples for being unable to heal the boy, or was he frustrated with yet another request for help? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter – I know the feeling. I also know that Jesus leaves the crowds from time to time to take care of his own needs. He goes away to pray. Still the crowds find him; there will always be people in need.
It can be difficult to carve out time for ourselves. The cares and occupations of this life are relentless and can be overwhelming. We can, however, take a breath, as it appears Jesus did, and return to the here and now and do what needs to be done. Life may interrupt our much-needed time off, but we can look for other opportunities to make time for ourselves. Flexibility is the key to self-care – because the time we set aside for ourselves does get interrupted over and over again.
There are many types of prayers, one is referred to as a breath prayer. Rooted in ancient practices it involves reciting a scripture with each breath. One example would be to say to yourself, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Saying it over and over again is a meditative practice that helps clear our minds. I think it can be effective with just one breath. Just as making the sign of the cross can help us shift our focus to prayer and worship, repeating a scripture silently when our personal time is interrupted can help us calmly move our attention to the person in need of help.
“My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,” is just one mantra that can be used, “Lord have mercy,” is another. This and making the sign of the cross are two ways I use to bring myself back to the moment whenever I find myself wanting to run. It brings me back to that place of peace where I experienced God’s mercy and presence and helps me to see those asking for my help as children of God. You may have your own way of doing this. If not, I suggest you pick a short verse or phrase to help you.
Let us pray.
Loving God, your glory has been revealed to us through your son, Jesus Christ. Help us, we pray, to hold fast to the memories of our experience of your presence in our lives that we might draw strength from you when helping others. Help us to remember that in all the cares and occupations of this life, you are ever with us. Grant us the peace that we can find only in you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.