Thursday, February 7, 2013

Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear...

Our texts for this Last Sunday in Epiphany, also called Transfiguration Sunday, are 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 16-18 and Luke 9:28-43a, which can be read here.

When I picture Jesus' transfiguration (which, mind you, is not something I picture all that often), I picture a scene that is removed, remote, distant, otherworldly.  I picture Jesus, shining like the sun, flanked by Moses and Elijah--also very shiny--while Peter, James, and John rub their eyes repeatedly to try to absorb what their eyes alone are getting to witness:  a glimpse of God's "electric holiness," as one of my seminary professors put it--a sneak peak of radiance that human eyes cannot normally behold.

This, however, is not how the transfiguration was pictured by one of its most famous painters--Italian Renaissance master Raphael.  Look at the image pictured at right.  This oil painting Transfiguration was the last work Raphael did, one he worked on right up to his death.  As such, you would expect it to be very otherworldly; but what strikes me about this image is how much the world impinges upon it.  We have the nice pretty shiny Jesus, and semi-shiny Moses and Elijah, and the three dazed and confused disciples; but what is all this madness happening right below this scene of glory?

There, right in the same frame, is the story that immediately follows the account of the transfiguration and that actually is included in the lectionary reading--Luke 9:37-43a, the healing of a boy with seizures.  Just inches away from this heavenly scene on the canvas are the horrors of earth, a young boy wracked with seizures, the disciples totally helpless to heal him.  Frustration and panic are visible on the agitated faces of the crowd.  But then, among them, two arms stretch towards what is happening on the mountain--towards the one shining in glory there.  In their outstretched arms, this otherworldly experience of Jesus becomes a thing of earth.  His shining in glory is not about him being removed from the world or elevated above it, but sent back down among it to bring glory to God as bodies are healed and lives restored.  As Sharon H. Ringe put it in our Feasting on the Word commentary, "The glory of God's presence and the pain of a broken world cannot be separated."

Read today's Gospel passage together, both of these stories--what happened up on the mountain, and what was happening not at all far below.  How often we try to separate the "spiritual" from the "worldly," what is "of heaven" from what is "on earth."  But what if these things are called to overlap and intersect more than we imagine?  What if God's holiness isn't just up on a mountain, but walking among us in our places of greatest need?  What if God's glory is a whole lot closer than it may initially appear?

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