Monday of the Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28. Less than a week until Christ the King, for those who are not squeamish about royal and male designations, and the Gospel yesterday wasn’t about a crowned king in splendor, all pomp and glitz, but about Jesus’ death on the Cross, and a different kind of triumph. A few days to Thanksgiving, the old English Harvest Festival moved to maximize the feeding frenzy of Christmas shopping. And then Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year and we start all over again. The year is racing by. Let’s step back and take a deep breath. And today we have the Transfiguration (Matt 17: 1-13).
How often have we winced when Peter asks to build booths to Elijah and Moses and Jesus. Peter who never seems to get it. But he does get it. He sees Jesus the Christ in all this glory, raised, reunited with that which we would eventually understand as the Trinity. And he hears the voice of God the Father acknowledging the incarnate Jesus and commands that we listen to him. But Peter knows that this moment won’t last. They never do. I have written about my theophany, face down on the chapel floor, in such fear and terror and such love that I only wanted to die and go to that one who called me. “You are mine.” And my answer, in choked up praise and prayer, was over and over, “Here I am.” And I knew that the burning bush, the Transfiguration, the gift I received and have spent a lifetime wresting with never last. They fade to that which we call reality. And the mission. And the Church. And so after the Transfiguration they all troop down the mountain to heal and preach and teach and walk to the Cross.
In the Benedictine charism one of the pillars is the vow of stability. It originated to keep monks from drifting off looking for a better place, a better abbot, a better table fellowship. And it still is a powerful way to bind people in community to force us to work out our differences with forgiveness and love as Jesus taught us. But sometimes that isn’t possible, and that makes us want to cry out to God, “Please, let me build a booth and hunker down and not change.” When a spouse dies, when it is time to leave home for an adult life, either to college or job or marriage, or just to explore for a while. Sometimes it’s a painful decision, an inevitable divorce, losing a job, picking up the pieces after a natural disaster. Changing parishes can be heartbreaking. It is also a family, and sometimes it is time to move on. So maybe Peter wasn’t being the fool we sometimes take him for. He knew. And he didn’t want to know. He wanted to stay up there frozen in time. In love and safety and companionship. In His presence. And we believe Peter will be there again and we all will at the end of time. But not yet. And that is hard. It hurts.
But change is necessary. Without it how do we grow? Stability is well and good, but we get stale, bored, hungry for something new. But even that takes discernment and prayer. Running off to seek novelty is not necessarily a way to grow. Will the flash of the New sustain us? How many times can we transform to meet the shape and form of Trending before we have no shape at all? Sometimes we get hurt. A marriage or collegial relationship will change, and to be whole and healed we need to recognize that. Hurt is okay. Mourning is okay. Resentment and hate are not. They open the door to every demon we ever encountered in our lives – feelings of regret, worthlessness, shame. Anger yields hate, and that is not of God, no matter how justified it may seem at the time. Change forced on us is a little death. And in times of grief we need prayer. We need healing. Because Change into Growth is easier when it is welcome, hopeful, supported. But when it is not we are fighting the demons of inevitability. Just as Peter did when it unfolded that Jesus was going to die and wouldn’t do anything to change it. Whether welcome or not those thoughts of how things are and how they were are going to tumble over each other for a while. Change is disruptive, both the welcome changes and the unwelcome ones.
But God wants us to change, to grow, to know him better. Jesus didn’t come to sit cross-legged at the Temple and dispense wisdom and die an old man. What a remarkable gift that God came down to us, the Word, before which nothing was, and took on a life so like our own. He ate, made friends, made enemies, lived righteously, was falsely accused and executed. He knew joy and pain, prayer and fellowship. He served all. And he was almost never still for more than a few days in those last years of his ministry, the ones we know about. Change. Change. Change. In and out of that boat crossing and re-crossing the water. But what never changed was his abiding love for his friends, for those who needed him, and his going up the mountain to pray to his Father, asking for guidance, for direction, for stability even in the constant movement, constant change. Remember when Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,’”? I think this is about accepting change. Don’t hold on to me is not necessarily about Mary not physically clinging to her beloved teacher but about accepting the change in their relationship. No longer are Mary and Jesus two embodied people. Jesus, through his death and Resurrection, has moved on past his incarnate life, and he has yet another move, to ascend to his Father. It will be painful for her. And probably for him, at least until he reunites in Glory with his Father.
And then there are the good changes, not necessarily less painful or sorrowful. Because after the epiphany, the transfiguration, the theophany, after the wedding, the ordination, the graduation, the successful childbirth comes the trip down the mountain. The trip to heal, preach, teach. The trip to manifest in the world that marriage, that ministry, that vocational career, that parenting. And all those things are full of joy and heartache, success and failure, anxiety and peace. And all of it is our individual way to the Cross, our lives lived out building the Kingdom, forming ourselves in the image of Jesus. Change is inevitable. Even in the most rigid of stabilities. We don’t get to build our booths and move in until Christ comes again, we are gathered before the Throne of God, and all the tears are wiped away. How we live with the inexorableness of change is a reflection of our faith, and like change, that wobbles up and down, but so long as we keep reaching out in prayer, even sad or turgid prayer in times of crisis, our Heavenly Father will reach out and comfort us, Jesus will lift us up and heal us. Don’t fear change. Embrace it. It is our road to Salvation.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.