Readings from Scripture (CEB) Mark 9:2-10
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human Onehad risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, wondering, “What’s this ‘rising from the dead’?”
Our brains rush to snap judgments that it’s often difficult to change what we see. We make up our minds knowing that to change them takes deliberate work.
Quickly – what do you see here: (Or what do you see first?)
Many of us might see a duck at first, with the bill pointing left, but others still might have recognized a rabbit, with the ears instead pointing off to the left. If we work at it we can change what we see.
A video clip of a Subway train: What about this one – what direction is the train travelling in – is it heading into the tunnel or is it coming out of it? Again, if you work at it, you can actually change the direction of the train, depending on what you put your mind to.
I marvel at how the next generation is always able to see the world with fresh eyes (without the burden of history or experience). It’s because of their vision that society moves forward. Where one generation has made up their mind, the next generation seeks to see a new way of being – and together we challenge “understoods” of sexuality, gender, race, as we see new ways of loving our neighbours. At one time that phrase would have challenged Catholics to love their Protestant neighbours and vice-versa (ignoring the fact that they’re reading from the same Bible every week). Nowadays, that same teaching of love opens our eyes to the reality of love necessary for all people. As Rev. Paul Walfall said in speaking particularly about Black History Month:
Consider the ways that you can put love into action as a means of counteracting racism. Remember that love in the Christian faith is more than an emotion, it is an act of will. When we love we choose the highest good for those we love. This love is both transformative and revolutionary. When you love you cannot accept it when another person is discriminated against or treated unkindly because of the colour of their skin. When you love, you treat every person with dignity, as all people are created in the image of God. Racism is totally incompatible with the Christian faith. Confronting racism is an act of love. Love moves us not to turn a blind eye to racism when we see it, when we love we make it an awkward experience for the person who is speaking racist language, or showing racist behaviour. When we love, we make it clear that jokes about race or unkind attitudes or actions are neither humorous nor beneficial for anyone in our society. Racism must come to an end if we are to be a people who love.
When we love we choose the highest good for those we love. This love is both transformative and revolutionary. The disciples who to this point have ignored Jesus’ healings and the boundary-pushing-love he exhibited, in order to see the friend who invited them on a journey.
But the mountaintop experience changes everything. It dawns on them, like sunlight awakens the earth, as they recognize the Messiah in their midst. Their eyes are opened to this transformative and revolutionary love that Jesus has not just for his friends, but for all people he will meet. Whether travelling through Galilee or hung on a cross, Jesus’ love is consistent. It never wavers. It might even grow stronger because of adversity. But the disciples witness that, and that ‘a ha!’ moment reveals the unmistakable love and presence of God.
Suddenly they saw him the way he was,
the way he really was all the time,
although they had never seen it before,
the glory which blinds the everyday eye
and so becomes invisible. This is how
he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy
like a flaming sun in his hands.
This is the way he was — is — from the beginning,
and we cannot bear it. So he manned himself,
came manifest to us; and there on the mountain
they saw him, really saw him, saw his light.
We all know that if we really see him we die.
But isn’t that what is required of us?
Then perhaps, we will see each other, too.
[Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace, (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1996), 64.
It’s like getting an email, or a phone call, or a piece of mail, or a knock at the door from someone you love. Someone you’ve missed. Someone that’s missed you. Someone you’ve not seen for awhile or heard from in awhile. This happens not just on Valentine’s Day.
There’s a way that our faces light up, that our voices become lighter, more joyous. In the moments of recognition, of being remembered, our souls bear the unmistakable light of God revealing divine love. I can’t wait for that first service back, or the first hundred services back, to see one face light up as another greets them. As we connect with friends and church members and share that which connects us. But isn’t that what is required of us, to see each other, to see every other person, and to really see them, and revel in the light that each of us bring to the earth?
That’s what the light of God reveals, on the mountaintop, on Valentine’s Day, in Black History Month, this transformative, revolutionary love that is the most sacred witness to our faith. For we are called to love our fellow human beings, our neighbours, as Rev. Syndey Elias said in the Record this week,
Scripture teaches and as Christ has shown us…to do what is good and right, and in the best interest of others. That often requires that we make some sacrifices, that we be willing to endure discomfort and pain, if need be, for the common good. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is not selfish — “It does not insist on its own way.” “Love is patient.” “Love endures all things.” Even when doing so is not easy or convenient.
There is something else about love that is especially important and very evident in this pandemic. When we are motivated by love, love unleashes gifts of creativity, kindness, and generosity.
Every day, we hear stories of ordinary folks doing wonderful things that they never did before, and never thought they were capable of doing.
This pandemic has opened our eyes. We’ve seen the best of people – ordinary folks doing wonderful things, making profound sacrifices in order to show their love. When over 100 men had to be evacuated because of a fire at the Waterloo Inn this week, there were so many donations in just 24h that Emmanuel United had to say we have enough! Send money if you can but we have all that we can sort through right now. Overwhelming gestures of love are what’s going to carry us through. This transformative, revolutionary love cannot and will not leave us where we are. The disciples wanted to stay on the mountaintop. They wanted to continue to bask in the light of God’s presence, to feel connected to their source of being, to remain where everything was right with the world. And Jesus wanted the same for them. To bask in that light, to feel that connection, to know things are right – with the whole world.
Jesus invites the disciples back down the mountain because their eyes were opened. They were able to see the way he was, the way he really was all the time, and Jesus wanted the disciples to practice that same gift of seeing and love for others. To see others, the way they are, they way they really are all the time. People worthy of love. Preconceived notions, history and experience do not determine another person’s future. Only love can do that.
This Lent, we’re going to look at God’s love – as it builds us up – as it gives us the strength to love not only ourselves but practice that love for others. Because the radiant brilliance of God’s love opens our eyes, and changes how we look at the world.
And we will nevermore be the same. Thanks be to God.