Luke begins this story with these introductory words, “On the eighth day.” This is an interpretive statement by Luke. In Matthew and Mark’s gospels, the event happens “six days later.” By the time Luke writes his gospel, the eighth day has developed into a significant theological symbol for the beginning of the new creation and a return to paradise. We’ve talked about the significance of the eighth day before.
The resurrection happened on the first day of the week
Early Christians worshiped on Saturday evening, the Sabbath, but they met together to sing hymns, pray, and celebrate the Lord’s supper before they went to work on the first day of the week in recognition of the Lord’s rising on the first day. It was called by early Christian writers the eighth day, celebrating the new creation. Eventually the practice of Sabbath and eighth day worship were combined by Christians and Sunday became the Lord’s Day. Early baptismal fonts were made in the shape of an octagon with baptism symbolizing dying to the old and rising as a new creation.
So Luke begins his transfiguration story significantly “on the eighth day.” On this day, the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) meet with Jesus and he is bathed in glory. This is a pre-image of the resurrected Christ witnessed by Peter, James, and Andrew.
The two halves of this story, the transfiguration and the healing of the boy, are tied together in all three synoptic gospels. The mountaintop experience is so powerful that the disciples would love to stay there, to build a place of worship, to remain in that ecstatic moment. There is something wonder-filled in that experience of God’s presence that makes us long for more. To be inspired, to breathe in (that’s what inspired means), to breathe in God’s presence, to be filled with light and awe and joy and wonder is an amazing thing. Celtic spirituality calls that the thin space where we transcend the here and now and enter momentarily into the eternal, the Divine, where we see beyond. The purpose of prayer and worship is to inspire us, to allow us to breathe in God’s presence. But that in-filling of God’s presence by the Holy Spirit, is not only to bless us. We are inspired, we breathe in God’s love so that we can breathe out God’s peace and healing.
Breath is an important metaphor in the gospels. There are two other breath words that we use. Expire and perspire. Expire means to breathe out. Perspire, means that our breath fuels work that makes us sweat. The word “perspire” derives from a middle French word meaning to blow. Jesus’ prayer life fueled his work among the people. And it may have been the source of his frustration with his disciples and the people gathered around the child with epilepsy that Jesus meets when he comes down the mountain. They were merely exhaling when they needed to take a deep breath of God’s Spirit and blow with all their might.
I’m aware of how silly that might sound—a little like the Big Bad Wolf. But we know that physical exertion causes us to breathe hard and sweat. The genius of lived Christianity is that it is like genius in every other field—one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. It’s hard work to live in community. It’s hard work to practice forgiveness and compassion. It’s really hard work to find solutions for big societal problems like homelessness or lack of access to medical care. It feels impossible to solve the issues of poverty and racism. Jesus is frustrated because his disciples feel powerless and either haven’t tried or haven’t tried very hard. The fact that we have treatments for epilepsy today is a result of people working hard, expending time and vast amounts of energy to find effective medications and procedures.
Genius requires vast amounts of perspiration fueled by inspiration. Jesus often went away to spend time in prayer. Jesus could pray so much longer than his poor, distracted disciples. In the gospels, whenever Jesus went away to prayer, they either fell asleep if they were with him, or came looking for him because they thought he’d been gone too long. It’s hard for most of us to imagine praying in the way that Jesus did. Even pastors find it hard to go away to listen to God because there always seems to be something more pressing to do. It’s easy to say that we are too busy or don’t have time. I liked the bumper sticker that is on the cover of your bulletin: "I don't have time" is the grown-up version of "The dog ate my homework". St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” Jesus found his purpose and his power in prayer. When he finished praying he moved back into ministry—and not easy ministry. He was ready to meet people in their desperation and deepest need. He was ready to challenge destructive assumptions about his culture, both religious and secular.
Truth be told, most of us are much more inclined to build a shrine and worship than to keep watch and pray and follow Jesus into the broken heart of the city, to touch and heal and speak words of forgiveness and love, to challenge and speak truth to power, to see a world reborn in which the treasure in every human life is honored and the values of God’s Kingdom are lived.
I understand why we crave mountaintop experiences. I have known people who chased worship experiences looking for that spiritual high. I also understand why I resist being as faithful in my prayer life as Jesus was in his. I have many good excuses! Jesus modeled a committed prayer life that enabled profound, life-changing ministry. Our personal prayer and corporate worship should inspire us—so that we breathe in God’s love. It should
- remind us of who we are, the baptized and sent,
- lift the world before God,
- ask for wisdom and courage in seeking justice and mercy,
- reconnect us as the body of Christ
- and send us out into the world to do the hard work of ministry.
Then we need to perspire, to blow the peace and healing of God into the world with power. We need to go and do. It occurred to me that we have already looked at our community and identified the need to support middle school youth. We have hired an amazing coordinator, Ted Packard, to develop the program. Ted is working hard. He needs our support. This is a secular program, which means that we are not going to evangelize these young people. But we’ve designed and funded this program because we are concerned about their welfare. We need to support them with prayer. We have four youth right now. Would you be willing to pray for one of them every day during the season of Lent that begins this Wednesday? I would love it if each young person had at least three people committed to praying for them. One of the youth is our own Nik Eliason. I have the other student’s names on a list in my pocket. If you are willing to pray, see me at the end of the service or call me during the week. None of these youth have the serious health concerns of the boy in this morning gospel reading, but it’s not easy to navigate life when you’re in middle school. They all have their challenges.
The other issue that we are working on right now is racism. There is a group of people who are concerned about racism on the island that is meeting tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. in the primary room. Pray and then join them if you can to do the hard work of finding solutions. And then keep praying.
The genius of the Christian faith is that God inspires us so that we can do the work of healing our world. Let’s take a deep breath and blow with all our might.