The Transfiguration, Year C. Last Sunday of the Epiphany:
The poet, Jane Kenyon, died after the onset of cancer at age fifty. She chronicled the experience of he loss of her physical abilities as the cancer progressed over 15 months. One of her poems written during this time in her life is so central to my thought this day when we talk about the brilliant light that runs through the readings this morning. This is her poem entitled: “Notes from the Other Side.”
“I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here.
Now there is no more catching one’s own eye in the mirror,
There are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course
No illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing
of teeth. No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket.
The poor we have no longer with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour.
And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
I returned Monday from our daughter’s wedding in India. The couple met and fell in love in Boston and The VT woman has just expanded the reach of our clan to the one place that seemed farthest away from our experience of the world. For one thing the Indians say they have either 3.9 or 32 million gods. I reply jokingly, ”is that all?” My head is spinning after hearing about the top twenty gods in the Indian pantheon and my eyes glaze over after 21. In a conversation with Jean, my wife, I said,” If there is one God in all creation that I could worship it would be a god of compassion”, or like Jane Kenyon wrote: “And God as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
In their defense the Indians say these God’s are aspects or attributes of the divine. We do somewhat the same thing with our thousand Saints or so. St Francis being one of our favorites. Maybe we all need some being some physical material incarnation of the Divine light to shine through the eye of the horse or the cow, a tiger or a Mother Teresa. In fact here in the readings this morning that is what happens. The light is so enveloping and so brilliant that when Moses comes out from the presence with the Holy he covers his face so that he will not blind the children of Israel. Similarly with Jesus when he is enveloped in the cloud with Moses and Elijah, the three apostles are stunned and awed by the brilliance of the light.
So aren’t we using Jesus, Moses and Elijah to open a door to us into the heart of God? Of course we say Jesus is God with us and so it is that God takes the form of a human being so that we can see what it means for us to be truly human; to get a glimpse into the humane and human heart of the Divine.
The ultimate goal of the life of prayer and Christian practice is to become compassion clothed in light. Or to become like Jesus, not to become Jesus, but being ourselves, become like him.
Paul in his letter to the disparate church in Corinth writes his letter on love. Paul is not talking about romantic love; he uses the Agape in the Greek. Agape means something like unconditional love.
To love means to care about another‘s well being as much as you care about your own. As one of the saints said, “Practice love by putting love where there is no love and you will find love.”
Part of what I experienced in India was an awakening to what I really hold onto about Christianity, that it is so incarnational, so material, it is flesh and bone and sinew and brain and heart. It is a living breathing vibrating community of people who are trying to be compassion clothed in light. We stumble and fall along the way, but as we follow the enfleshed Son of God we find ways that we can live into the life of the holy.
In India Mother Teresa, a young Albanian Nun when confronted (as we were) with the suffering on the streets of Calcutta, the dying left to succumb in the gutters, she took them in. She couldn’t stop them from dying, from lives of deprivation–rather she gave them during the last months of their lives a place where they could be kept clean and warm and safe and a bed to sleep in/ she gave them back their dignity. The sisters of Charity continue that ministry in New Delhi and Calcutta and Haiti and many other parts of the world to this day.
If you have been to India, it is a nation of 1.3 billion people. The challenges are daunting, and yet this young nun knew somehow she had to start somewhere. She is a window into the divine mercy of God in Light.
As I grow older I think that the task has been to grow into compassion, to grow into the God who is mercy clothed in light. When I was young it was a God of justice that I sought. As I grow older it is to live with compassion for all people and creatures. There is such a world of hurt that it seems by putting love and compassion where there is no love that justice will come. Love will challenge greed and all other self seeking that draws us from the love of god our neighbor and our self respect.
I think we all probably know this one truth about God that our God is a god of compassion who demonstrates to us over and over again the power of unconditional love to turn hearts and to transform the energy in a room or the world. Our task now it to become like Him
I look forward to being with you during the next ten weeks as you await your new priest. I see you living out this Gospel in this community. You are working to become children of the light, people of compassion. In my time with you two years ago, I watched as you brought a woman in who had been disfigured by her husband, I watched as you dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Irene and how you reached out to parishioners and neighbors. I look forward over the next weeks to listen to you tell some of your own moments and times of transfiguration. As we enter Lent it will be a good time to reflect and pray and divest ourselves of those things that keep us from being fully alive and human and humane. Amen