2/24/13, What Comes After the Mountaintop

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18, Philippians 3:17 - 4:1, Luke 9:28-36 


Well, you may say, what did THAT have to do with anything?  Did Sandi just need 4 minutes of filler for the homily time today?

Your questions are perfectly reasonable.  Having spent the lion’s share of this week anticipating our workshops with Michael Morwood, and then both  Friday and Saturday engaged with the attendees as I took in and grappled with the message myself, it’s true that there has not been a lot of time left over for creating a homily.  But as I sat with these scriptures each morning, particularly the gospel passage, the litany of the saints kept coming to my mind.  The music itself takes one to a contemplative place, doesn’t it?

But there’s more to this litany than just evoking an emotional response.  When this litany is recited, as Catholics do during the Easter Vigil or at times of transition like ordinations,  the stories of Christian experience over many centuries are recalled. The voices of the past speak to us once again reminding us of the many ways in which, throughout the ages, Spirit has called upon followers of Christ to live out the Kingdom message in actions that were relevant to the cultures and challenges of the times.

This story-telling tradition is but one of the rich treasures that our Catholic expression of faith has preserved for us.  When we are caught in the throes of anger and frustration with the ways that the religious institution has so steadfastly resisted the changes that are necessary to bring Christian faith into the 21st century, it is good to take a step back and remember all that has been beautiful about this heritage.  The stories and rituals and symbols of our faith do not have to be time-bound by literalism.  They can bear within them spiritual truths that are timeless if only we have the open minds and hearts to receive them anew in each generation.

The Litany of Saints, for example, contains words with which many Catholics and other Christians are struggling: Mercy, Evil, Sin, Save, Resurrection, Chosen, “Believe and Profess”… these are just some of the theological concepts that cause us to wrestle as we have come to understand God differently than we were told when we were growing up into the Christian faith.  We have a warm response to this music and to the memory of the names that are recited. These saints carried out their calling in their particular time in history.  But how are WE to articulate and demonstrate the teachings of Jesus in a meaningful way today?

That’s the ongoing discussion with which Michael Morwood leaves us.  Thank you, Michael, for the inspiration you have given to the Church as a whole and to Lumen Christi this weekend.

Now, about today’s gospel passage.  If you were with us last week, you will remember that Jesus went from recognizing his call to ministry when he was baptized in the Jordan to taking the metaphorical 40 days to examine his temptations (shadow side) in the desert.  Having dealt with that side of his humanity, Jesus left the desert to commence ministry in Galilee. Today’s gospel according to Luke takes Jesus up a mountain to pray.  Just as in biblical literature the image of desert represents a place of testing, so in scripture does a mountaintop represent a place of Divine encounter.  Luke reports that while Jesus was praying in this place, his face changed in appearance and the clothes he wore became dazzling white. Both Matthew and Mark’s gospels call this the transfiguration of Jesus.  It was a pivotal moment in which Jesus made the decision to go all the way with the radical nature of his baptismal call.  Leaving behind the old ways of the Law and the Prophets, represented by the visitation of Moses and Elijah who depart from him, Jesus will go down that mountain to teach people how to live as true citizens of the Kingdom of God.  He will begin the journey towards Jerusalem, inviting his disciples to go with him.  Along the way he will remind them that what awaits him is death at the hands of the religious and political powers of the day.  But go he must.  He has been transfigured into light, and the light must shine in the darkness.

Where are you along the Lenten journey today?  Maybe you are just recognizing your baptismal call.  Maybe you are in the desert doing battle with those shadows that are part of our human experience.  Maybe you are in a prayerful place of encounter with the Divine, a kind of mountaintop perspective where you are seeing the possibilities of living in a new way.  But maybe you are also having to decide whether it is the right time for you to walk off that mountaintop and into the valley where be determined to live that new way might be fraught with difficulty and rejection. 

It’s not any other human being’s prerogative to know your journey with God, to tell you where you are or what you should do next.  But do know that as the Body of Christ, we are all in this together.  Let’s teach and encourage one another in love.  May the light of Christ shine through us today, carrying forward the vision our brother Jesus and all the saints have passed on to us with integrity and beauty and hope.  Amen.

by Sandi DeMaster