Luke 9:28-43a “Collapsing Time into Promise”
February 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”– not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
We tell time in all kinds of ways. Some of us take that slightly sideways-downward glance at our wrists to check the watch that has been in the family for years – perhaps to see how much longer the preacher might go (while you think the preacher doesn’t notice). Others of us whip out the latest cell-phone and touch a screen for the time to light up along with text messages clamoring for a response. For others of us, time registers more physically – our eyes open, it’s time to get up; our stomachs growl, it’s time to eat. Regardless of how we do it, we are creatures that tell time and respond to it.
We are also creatures who know how our time is to be spent. Time is prioritized and reorganized, lost and found. It is so a part of who we are and how we move through the world that there is very little challenging our assumptions about it. And this is why I love church-time, otherwise known as liturgical time. Churchy, liturgical time comes up against and pushes through the way we spend our days – pointing us in a different direction than the one that ordinarily grabs our focus.
The church year begins in advent with the paradox of apocalyptic prophecy and soft candlelight as we wait for the Christmas birth and revel in the 12 days post-partum. Epiphany comes in on a star as the Christ-child is revealed to the magi and then Sunday after Sunday we bathe in Epiphany’s light, light and more light until we arrive here, this day, this Transfiguration-of-our-Lord day. This day when the light becomes so bright that time bends around it, collapsing in on itself and bringing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together on the mountaintop in a wild, Judeo-Christian Hall of Fame line-up.
This time-bending light show bends Peter’s brain. He tries to think of the appropriate response, comes up with one, puts it out there and gets shut down. His faithful exuberance doesn’t get him very far. In fact he is silenced for the rest of the story. Silenced like the chastised, mid-wave, Mile High super-fans of Peyton Manning. Because what else can be meant by God’s emphatic command to, “Listen to Him,” other than a resounding, “Be Quiet!” Although most likely the message here is stronger, something more a bit more emphatic than a blue and orange arm-flapping gesture!
This time-bending light show bends Peter’s brain – and perhaps in a similar way bends our minds as we are confronted by this text. What was he, and what are we, to make of this shiny Jesus and his shiny friends? The light show and the big three of Moses, Elijah and Jesus seem to say something about the Law and the Prophets and Jesus being the fulfillment of both of them. They connect Jesus, and therefore us, through God’s work in the world before this moment and into the moment of now. But if we simply stay in the time-bending moment on the mountaintop, we risk being disconnected from the point.
My Uncle Larry came out from Massachusetts for my ordination. We talked a lot about a lot things, including my new call here at Augustana. We had time for one more chat over a cup of coffee before he left Tuesday morning. My uncle is wonderful at delivering meaningful messages. And as he was encouraging me about my work here he remembered hearing President Lyndon Johnson once say, “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.” Oh, sure, we could have fun challenging the statement, but in general there is some truth here. If I want to increase the odds of learning about who you are and what you are about then some silence on my part would be a good place to start.
Peter could have used this lesson from my Uncle Larry before filling the air with this reaction and being silenced by God. But he gets a lesson nonetheless. This one is from Jesus. God’s command to silence allows Peter to look and listen in a new way without being burdened by the content of his response to the time-bending on the mountaintop that bends his mind along with it. After all, he is not left behind on the mountaintop in all of its dazzle and terror.
“On the next day,” Jesus and his disciples came down from the mountain. They are met by a crowd and confronted by a desperate father who asks Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. And Jesus does. Jesus looks evil in the eye and overwhelms it. And I imagine his disciples standing in a circle around this scene saying, “Huh.” Or maybe even a few of them, including Peter, James, and John, saying, “Ohhhhh…”
What the disciples don’t get to see at this point in the story is how Jesus does for us, for all of us, what he did for the boy with the demon. This coming week, we’ll get together again on Ash Wednesday which drops us into six weeks of Lent reorienting us much the same way that the disciples were reoriented coming off of that mountain. More churchy, time-keeping that comes up against and pushes through the way we spend our days – pointing us in a different direction than the one that ordinarily grabs our focus.
This past Wednesday, Pastor John and Malise de Bree, our Senior Ministry Evangelist, guided us through the funeral and interment of Bob Safe, a long-time friend and member of Augustana – a poignant moment of remembering his life and commending him to God, a time-bending moment where time stands still as we witness his ashes being placed into the ground right in front of us, just outside of this sanctuary, on the breath of our prayers and under the weight of God’s promise.
We stood together, forming a circle alongside his wife and children who miss him the most. We stood there with the stunning bronze cross completing the circle on its north end and the burnished statue of Jesus in the middle of our circle looking at the cross. And as we stood in vigil, time collapsed in on itself.
Time collapses because this is where the shiny Jesus and the cross meet in the fullness of the story – the dazzle of Jesus on the mountaintop shines it light toward the darkness of another hilltop where the truth of death is simultaneously revealed and overcome.
To stay in the dazzle of the mountaintop until the resurrection glory of Easter is tempting but doing so robs us of the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us; Christ’s work in Bob Safe and for Bob Safe; and Christ’s work in you and for you.
So, today we dance in the dazzle as it illuminates the cross.
Today Christ’s shining light illuminates his promise in you and for you.
Thanks be to God!