Monday, February 23, 2004

transfiguration

Yesterday was the last Sunday in Epiphany. We buried the alleluias by singing an Epiphany hymn right after communion. Someone said that in their old parish the children would bury a piece of wood called the alleluhia to signify its absence from the liturgy during Lent.

We sang an anthem by Larry King written in the 1970s for choir, organ and tape called The Transfiguration a chanted meditation on the Gospel text that includes synthesizer sounds. And we sang a 20th century setting of a prayer by the Venerable Bede that is inscribed on a chapel in Durham Cathedral.

The epistle reading was I Corinthians 13, and the woman reading it choked up a couple of times while she read. Her husband has Alzheimer's and I thought perhaps the words were too close for her not to show emotion. In adult forum, somebody said that it was okay for gay people to be in the church, but they shouldn't have children. Sitting a few feet away were gay parents. What does it mean to love somebody? To have the characteristics that Paul outlines in this part of his letter?

Looking over the congregation I saw another lady who has tended her husband for many years, his brain damaged from a stroke. I saw a fellow I didn't like much because he is a bit of a bully. I saw new folk and old folk and thought about God's love for us, my own pettiness and ability to keep count of grudges. Churches are interesting collections of people.

This was not a Sunday that I heard the sermon, but I heard the texts read, I heard and sang the music. In the bulletin notes for today, there was a reference to Transfiguration and a 19th century German theologian's suggestion that what was transformed was not Jesus, but his disciples and how they saw him.

The Transfiguration story is truly an odd one, a mystery really, one of those things you've heard or read about all your life, and yet it doesn't make complete sense. That's ok. I think we try to make too much sense sometimes. I've never thought, for example, that we should try squeeze out an exact literal meaning of the Sermon on the Mount. We're told in the gospels that Jesus' followers often missed his point, often reacted in a way that showed they weren't quite getting it. And patiently he illustrated, told stories, repeated lessons. "The kingdom of God is like ..."

And there are moments when they did start to get it, like Peter's answering the call to follow Jesus.

When we think we have learned something, we can possibly cut ourselves off from hearing or seeing or learning from it again. The Sermon on the Mount has some hard sayings that challenge us to the quick, that are so opposite of human nature, so opposite of human culture. It can be searing. We ought to let it be that. And confess that we don't adequately know or understand it all.

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qishaya said...
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