Friday, February 24, 2006

On the Mountaintop

The patient’s anxiety was clear, and the patient’s question to me was one I had heard before – one I had cried out before myself. “I believe. I have so much faith. But, how do I know? I want to feel God with me. How do I know?”

Peter, James and John went with Jesus to the mountaintop, “apart, by themselves.” There they saw Jesus, not as they knew him, but “transfigured…his clothes… dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” And, he was not alone. There were Elijah and Moses, those shapers of Jewish history and identity, with him, caught up in conversation. Poor Peter, thinking apparently that he must do something, even if it’s wrong, had a suggestion: “Let’s give everybody someplace to sit, to stop and talk for a while.” And then there was that Voice – a voice so distinct it could only be portrayed with a capital “V” – saying, “This is my beloved Son; pay attention!” And then it was over, and there stood Jesus once again, as they had known him before – sort of.

Somehow, when we want to know God is with us, we look for something overwhelming, something spectacular. We seek that blinding light, that overwhelming Voice. Even if we expect to hear God’s voice in the deafening silence, we want the comfort of the roaring wind, the rolling earthquake, the raging fire. We will trust that the voice in the stillness is God because we have heard the tread of his heavy footsteps coming our way. And if we don’t hear those footsteps in wind and quake and fire, we doubt ourselves, our faith, our worth to God. “I want to feel God with me. How do I know?”

What is interesting to me is that on the Mount of the Transfiguration it is not the light that moves the apostles. Peter does not bask in the light or praise its brightness. Instead, he responds to the men who stand there: to Moses and Elijah, and to Jesus, now shown clearly to be their colleague. He wants to honor them, to care for them. But he doesn’t really stop to think what it means that they are there. And it’s only after he tries to stop time and freeze the moment that he hears the Voice, that Voice that fills his senses with the words, “This is my Son. Now do you get it?”

You see, throughout the history of the people of God, time and time again God comes in a person. The message of God comes to us through a messenger. Jesus gave us a hint of this when he said, “This generation will only get the sign of Jonah!” He didn’t mean the sign that Jonah received. He meant the sign that Jonah was. So it was that the three did not see Jesus with cherubim or seraphim, or with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but with Moses and Elijah: two who had brought the message before, now standing with him who would bring the message in fullness. God had not simply spoken from the sky. God had spoken to us through people. And now he would not only speak to us through a prophet; he would be with us in his Son.

We of all the peoples of the earth, we Jesus people, we should know this. We call ourselves the Body of Christ, and reflect on our vocations: are we an eye to see, an ear to hear? We celebrate that each of the members of the Body has a function. But precisely because we have a function, a vocation to express the ministry of Christ, we also realize that we are in a concrete sense the continuing presence of Christ in the world. When we live out our vocations in concrete ways, we are the tangible presence of Christ, reflecting powerfully God’s love in Christ for all those we touch,

And that was my answer to the patient: God does not come to us simply in the voice in our hearts. God comes to us in the voices in our ears and in the hands on our shoulders. If we can be a tangible part of the Body of Christ for others, surely others can make the Body of Christ tangible for us. “God has come to us in a perso'" I said. "And that’s how God comes to us still. When you know people love you, care for you, act in your best interest – not always what you want, but always in your best interest – perhaps you can know that God is with you in them.” And with that I looked at the friend at the bedside, the friend who said, “Whatever you decide I will be here with you.” And the patient’s eyes widened, as if seeing in a new light.


Preston said...

Hey - found you through David Fleenor's blog. Good to find another episcopalian blogging on chaplaincy. Come by me site if you get a minute - I have a number of posts about chaplaincy work.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post. I can witness to its truth. For so many years, Christ came to me in the person of many and I failed to recognize him. I just spent another weekend with the senior high school youth of the diocese who are planning a retreat for the junior high youth at the end of March. Needless to say, Christ came to me many times, both to be served and to serve.