When I worked at the children’s hospital, one of the most difficult tasks children and their parents encountered was physical rehab.
Oftentimes, the kids would have come in to the hospital from a car wreck, or from a long-planned surgery, or some other big life event. And just when they were starting to feel human again, just when whatever ailments and brokenness the world had thrown at them was starting to feel like it might be finally letting up, it would be time to endure the regular rituals of the torture of physical therapy.
Of course the fun thing about physical therapy in a hospital was that it was never something anyone did alone, and oftentimes it looked very different than for adult counterparts. It would be easy to smile on the inside and outside when watching a five year old peddling a big-wheel down the hall with a community of support cheering her on, until I’d look at her face and see that this wasn’t all fun for her, it was work.
I remember one patient in particular screaming at her therapist and parents begging not to have to get up and go to therapy; pleading to be able to lay in her safe space and continue her healing. The pain of healing those muscles by exercising them was just too excruciating after experiencing the healing of being sedentary and recuperating in bed.
But of course the pain of therapy was also part of her healing. Otherwise she would just be stuck in the bed forever. She needed both.
The gospel today comes just a few paragraphs and, according to the text, six days after Peter has rebuked Jesus for talking about being killed, and Jesus rebuked right back for Peter’s focus on worldly instead of divine things.
I wonder what it was like for these disciples to be on this journey with Jesus, to have this man becoming such a source of light for them in a broken world, only to have him tell them that he would die in the end? I can only imagine I might have begun to doubt, to break down, to lose the hope I had in this man for the healing of the brokenness of the world that I had thought he was going to change.
And so I imagine them going to the top of the mountain in this passage with some weariness, with the cares of the world heavy on their shoulders, because this Jesus, this man they thought was going to release them from the empire, give them back their freedom and dignity, save them from the persecution of Rome, has said he is going to die at their very hands and that they are not focused on the right things.
But they get to the top of this mountain and something changes, you see, something amazing happens. They have this spiritual experience that gives them a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. And they are so excited about it that now Peter gets it! He doesn’t want to go back down into the brokenness of the world– he wants to stay up here in this more spiritual plane and build permanent housing so he can live this way forever!
And I have to tell you I can relate. This week alone has been trying. National news has been tough anyway in recent times, but this week I’ve watched several people I know harrassed and bullied personally. I was called urgently to the hospital yesterday as a parishioner fell sick. I was faced with the pressing pastoral care of more than one call for folks who are challenged with the daily grind of existence, and whose struggles relate very little to what is going on in Washington or anywhere but trying to eat, or find housing, or whatever.
So, when I am broken myself, whether by the cares of the world, or physical distress, or by the overwhelming sense of not being able to believe that its going to be ok for whatever reason, I need a place to go where I can have a change like Peter and the disciples on the mountaintop, where I can see and have hope and be a witness to a transfigured reality– where I can rebuild hope again and see the glowing and radiant love of God.
Like the girl in the hospital bed there is a time to lie still and be changed by a passive kind of healing, by a kind of restoration that comes from experiencing the care of others, the disciples witnessing the voice boom out, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased!” And somehow knowing that because of that you are the beloved too, and that we are all the beloved, and letting your beloved-ness permeate your weariness, and sink down deep into your bones until you feel hope again.
I have to tell you, the high-church tradition does a wonderful job of creating that kind of mountaintop experience, at least for me– of making a space to feel your own belovedness, to be a witness to the change happening within that reminds and restores your own belovedness, and makes you cry out, “This is so good, It is good for us to be here!” Like Peter. I find those mountaintop experiences not only in good liturgy, but in communing with nature, in quiet and stillness, in music, and in the company of good friends.
But of course that isn’t the end of the story. The disciples can’t stay there, they can’t build booths; they can’t live on that mountaintop. The mountaintop is a place of witness to the deep change of God. But the change they experience only has real effects if they go back down the mountain and live differently as a result. The mountaintop is the key to living a life without fear down the mountain in the messiness of a world that is hurting.
The girl in the hospital had the surgery, relieving her pain, but it’s of no use if she doesn’t get up and do the rehab to make her walk again, then walk differently using all that happened to her.
In the transfiguration story, the thing that happens immediately after the disciples get down the mountain is that they try to heal a boy with demons. They don’t succeed and Jesus has to help them, but they try, together.
And, for me, that is the real essence of the high-church tradition. We are made into one in the waters of baptism– as the deacon says when she sends Eucharist out to homebound parishioners: “We who are many are one body.” One body. We are changed by God, transfigured, shown a different way as the church, brought out of the brokenness of the world. We are offered healing and respite. But- and this is where the high-church tradition sometimes screws it up in practice- we can’t stay there. We go out, as one body, not as individual zealots, understanding that some parts of the one body need more time for healing and some are called to go further down the mountain. We won’t risk an individual for sacrifice but perhaps will be called to risk the whole body together as the Church in order to save the world. Former presiding bishop John Hines said during a former period of civil strife that only a crucified church can speak for a crucified savior. We don’t go as you and me and him and her. We who are many are one body because we share of one bread, one cup. We are sent out each and every week as one body to go back down the mountain, to put our own healing to work, to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart, we who are one body, to go down the mountain and be instruments of the One who heals the sick and mends the wounds and relieves the anger and has empathy for the misunderstood and who brings justice for the oppressed and who knows each and every living thing as God’s very own beloved.
You know, I used to be a member of a parish that had this beautiful, giant stained glass window behind the altar. The messianic figure depicted in that window had open arms, embracing many children coming into them. I imagined myself in this image as one of those children, running full speed into that embrace for healing and wholeness, to be changed by the very act of being loved after being broken by the world outside.
I also imaged that open embrace turning, after a time, into a gesture of sending forth. Go! You’ve got work to do. We’ve got work to do. And so, I imagined, the cycle would work. Come and be transfigured, changed, and healed. Go, be sent into the world, and no matter how broken that world might be, put my love for you to work. Come And be healed, be sent and heal others, come and be healed, be sent and heal others. It’s the work of us, this one body, together.
It only put a small damper on my vision of that window when I found out the figure in it was a woman who had donated a large sum of money some fifty years prior So she could see herself up there every week, and that the figure was not, in fact, Jesus. But I think the image is still true and I still call her Jesus anyway.
This is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. As one of my colleagues says, I invite you to keep on Epiphing as we turn toward Jerusalem and enter Lent, as we come down the mountain and face the brokenness of this world. Stay in a rhythm of coming, being healed, and of being sent and open to the wounds of the world. Be transfigured, and be changed in the one who loves you as beloved, now and always.
The Rev Jeff Martinhauk
26 Feb 2017