1 April 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark 16)
In a 1969 essay on religious pluralism, the American Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote that, “the common challenge for all religions today is to resist the rising tide of nihilism.” Nihilism: the belief that nothing is of intrinsic value or worth. On this Easter Sunday, I would like to sharpen the focus of that observation to say, that the most urgent challenge for all people of faith right now, is to resist the increasingly strident and global attack upon the dignity of the human person.
We see signs of the ebbing of our ability to value one another everywhere. Ideologues of both the right and the left look upon one another as unworthy even of a hearing. Political leaders cynically scapegoat the foreigner and the immigrant. Movements driven by supremacist creeds rally in the public square. The terrorist with his bombs regards other people only as instruments of his own cause. Children—teenagers—marching in the streets to advocate for their own safety are ridiculed by those who would suppress their voice. Citizens ready to risk their life for their country are denied the opportunity to do so simply because of their gender identity.
But what, you may ask, has all this to do with Easter? Well, everything, actually. When Jesus died on the cross, he suffered what is perhaps the most dehumanizing form of execution humanity has ever fashioned. And yet … hidden within that pitiful spectacle, another and more powerful force was at work that could not be put down or defeated: the strength of God’s love surging through him even in what appeared to be his utter defeat.
The physical Jesus dies on the cross, but the mystery is that the spirit within him did not stop loving us even then. In Jesus we find that God is not exhausted by what we do, even putting him to death. It turns out that we are powerless to change God’s mind, which is focused upon us purely for life and for mercy. So on the third day, the love that is the life-force of Jesus comes roaring back into the lives of those who had counted him as lost, simply because God cannot do otherwise.
And suddenly the picture comes clear: Jesus’ death on the cross is a bit like the cross-section that we might take of the trunk of a tree, where we can see and count the rings. But the cross-section gives us only an intimation of the whole picture: the veins we see there, running circularly around the tree, in fact also run longitudinally up and down the tree from bottom to top, just as God’s creative love runs through human history from beginning to end.
In the historical Jesus, we see only a cross-section of that love. At first, it seems to come to an end in his death, but then when that life and love reasserts itself in his resurrection, we realize that Jesus is not limited by historical time after all, but is the one about whom scripture says, “He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” In short: Jesus’ resurrection is not a miraculous resuscitation of a human corpse, hard for us to imagine, but a revelation of the metaphysical constant of God’s love, wondrous for us to contemplate, radiating uninterrupted through the cosmos much like the elemental energy from the moment of creation.
And what has this to do with human dignity? Well, if God created us human beings in the divine image and likeness, it was to live in a reciprocal relationship, mirroring back to God the same love with which God loves us. When we look into the face of another human being therefore—no matter who or what they are—we see there nothing less than what God does: the likeness of God’s own self. And if it is God we see, then that person is truly holy, worthy of every dignity and respect we can bestow. To do anything else, is in effect to curse God. As Abraham Heschel put it, “To denigrate another human being, is to be blasphemous toward God.”
Easter, then, is the ultimate celebration and consecration of the dignity of the human person, because it is the vindication of the power of the love through which we were created, and by which we are sustained. In what Jesus suffered from us on the cross, and in the still stronger power of his love for us as it reasserts itself in his resurrection, we encounter the decisive truth of who we are: creatures made holy by the divine nature God has bestowed upon us, and unsparingly loves in us.
There at the front of the church, you see a multitude of icons of saints, and angels, and of Christ himself. They cumulatively weave together the human form we bear, with the divine image in which we are created. On this Easter Day, these images are a bold and unequivocal restatement of the primordial truth which we as Christian people hold: that all people are created equal in God’s image, and that they are therefore endowed with an inalienable holiness and dignity that cannot be desecrated, except by violating Christ himself. In that regard, resurrection must include insurrection, whenever and however that dignity is defiled. Amen.
30 March 2018
St. Michael’s Church
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world.” (John)
Let’s start with a question: In what sense could Jesus be said to be a migrant?
As the dictionary defines it, to migrate simply means to move from one country or place to another, often in search of some relief or change. On a day like Good Friday, therefore, the question is not frivolous, for the whole of Holy Week is marked by Jesus’ movement, from triumphal entry into Jerusalem as hero, to condemned criminal on the cross; from the intimacy of a Passover meal with his disciples, to his betrayal and arrest in the garden; or, even at the most basic of levels, his movement from a prophetic life of teaching and healing, to his humiliation and death on the cross.
It is striking that throughout the Bible, migration is an absolutely consistent motif. God for example expels Adam and Even from Eden. Noah is set adrift in the ark. Then later, God calls Abraham out of the land of Ur to journey to a new land; subsequently Jacob and his sons follow Joseph to Egypt to escape famine; then Israelites have to escape their slavery by fleeing with Moses to Sinai; still later, the people of Judah are forced into Babylonian captivity, and only much later do they finally return home from their diaspora to Jerusalem. On and on it goes.
And when Jesus himself is born, the gospel narratives go out of their way to emphasize his migrant status: Joseph takes his young wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestors, where she gives birth to her child as a homeless pobrecita; the family then almost immediately has to flee as refugees into Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath, and are able to return home only after the king dies; and as the young man Jesus begins his public ministry, he is driven like an exile by Satan into the wilderness, after which he begins to refer to himself as “the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head.”
And as last Sunday’s epistle reminded, there is yet a further and more cosmic dimension to Jesus as migrant: as the great Christ hymn in Philippians puts it, Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Jesus migrates from his divine origins into human form, entering into the role of servant when it is in fact he who is the Lord of all. Jesus lives in exile among us.
Now, there are several threads that one might follow to trace the significance of this idea of Jesus the migrant, or Jesus migrator. One thread would be that it puts a whole new meaning into how we serve and receive him, in serving and receiving the immigrant among us—for Jesus is himself the primordial migrant. There would be much to say about that.
But the thread I want to trace here this evening is rather different: that as a migrant, God in Christ is never static, never settled, never at home. Jesus is always in motion, moving from place to place, from one life changing encounter to another. Perhaps that is even one way of looking at the meaning of the cross: Jesus moves through it from the life of violence and injustice that we know now, into a different life marked by peace and dignity on the other side (which we will describe on Easter Sunday as his resurrection). So if we are to be followers of Jesus, then it means to journey with him, to participate in this immigration with him (if you will), from one life into another.
We are, in effect, strangers and sojourners in this life, but Jesus is leading us toward another land, a promised land—a pattern of human living which he calls the Kingdom of God. As one of the earliest Christian texts put it (The Letter of Diognetus, from the 2nd or maybe 3rd century), “[Christians] live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and yet endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their homeland, and yet every homeland is a foreign land [because at heart they are refugees from their true homeland, which is with God].”
Now this vision of being in constant motion as followers of Jesus, of being bound toward some new life, is rather counter-intuitive. We tend to look toward faith and religion as something that we seek out to give us as sense of security, certainty, and stability. But as the deus migrator, Jesus calls us out of and beyond all that toward its exact opposite: in following him, we embrace risk, complexity, and unpredictability. But we also gain wonder, joy, and courage.
There on the altar, there is an icon by the local Franciscan Robert Lentz, sometimes known as “Christ the Refugee.” In it, you see the figure of Jesus on the other side of some strands of barbed wire, pulling them apart with his own, wounded hands. Our first instinct, on seeing the icon, may be to read it as depicting Christ imprisoned, a refugee caught inside some sort of jail.
But if you pay close attention to Jesus’ gaze—and in an icon, the gaze is always all important—it becomes less and less apparent that it is Jesus who is imprisoned. His gaze of compassion, mercy, and longing seems to suggest that it is we who are behind the barbed wire, and he is on the outside looking in. Or perhaps both things are true at once.
Through this ambiguity, the icon of Christ the Refugee speaks powerfully to us of the prisons which hold us—and him—captive. Prisons of personal privilege and national identity; prisons of class status and party establishment; prisons of selfish self-interest and personal security.
What if the message of Good Friday, spoken to us both by Christ on the cross and Christ on the other side of the barbed wire, is an encouragement to break out of those prisons, and to become a migrant with him: to follow him into a new country, a new vision of life, a new and more compassionate understanding of ourselves. What if the ultimate purpose of the cross, is to make of us, displaced migrants? Amen.
 I am indebted for the idea of God as migrant to Peter C. Phan, “Doing Christian Theology in the Age of Migration,” a paper presented at the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, NJ, February 6, 2018.
 Cyril Richardson, ed., Early Christian Fathers (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 48-49.
25 March 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” (Mark)
Each morning, we begin the day here at the church by offering Morning Prayer. We pray using a little booklet that includes a number of canticles, which cycle through about every two weeks or so.
One of the canticles that particularly catches my eye each time it appears is called “A Song of True Motherhood,” by the Medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich. In it, she imagines that the love with which Jesus loves us is like that of a mother: “Christ came in our poor flesh,” she writes, “to share a mother’s care.” So far, nothing too surprising in that—maybe there’s something a little unusual about saying that Jesus the man loves us like a mother, but okay, that’s true enough.
But then, Julian goes on to say, “Our mothers bear us for pain and for death; our true mother, Jesus, bears us for joy and endless life.” Now that is more radical: Jesus is not just like a mother, Jesus is our mother. Instead of an analogy, we now have a literal correspondence.
But that’s not all: Julian presses the point further, “Christ carried us within him in love and travail, until the full time of his passion.” One morning, it hit me like a thunderbolt that what Julian is suggesting, is that the pain Jesus experiences on the cross could be understood not as the result of violence, but as the birth pangs of a new creation. So instead of seeing on the cross the end of one life in death, she wants us to see the birth of a new life. The birth pangs of the cross.
Christians, of course, have always struggled to articulate just what it is that Jesus does through his death on the cross. Even the New Testament has several competing theories. We are all probably most familiar with the idea that what Jesus does is to somehow step in for us to pay the penalty of our sin to God—but quite frankly, I’ve never found that understanding very satisfying or convincing. It just doesn’t square with the God of mercy and compassion who is at the heart of the gospels, and moreover it doesn’t seem to me that the universe is portrayed in scripture as kind of a cosmic law court, but rather as the realm of mystery and awe.
But when Julian suggests that what happens on the cross is the birth of a new creation—well that is an idea I can start to get my mind around. After all, the creation account in Genesis is very deliberate in ascribing the pain of childbirth as one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall. So there is a sense of poetic completion in the idea that the renewal of humanity’s original blessedness through Jesus—the second Adam—should come about through the pain of new birth.
Ironically, in the sequence of canticles at Morning Prayer, the one that precedes Julian’s “Song of True Motherhood” is a canticle by Anselm, one of the great medieval theologians. Anselm is most famous for developing the idea that the cross is where Jesus pays the price for our sin—substitutionary atonement, is the technical theological term. In the canticle we say by Anselm at Morning Prayer, however, he actually sounds a lot closer to Julian’s idea of Jesus as our mother: “Jesus, by your dying,” he writes, “we are born to new life; by your anguish and labor, we come forth in joy.” If anything, Anselm makes here an even closer metaphorical connection between crucifixion and childbirth!
So if Julian and Anselm are both so eager to ascribe this birthing imagery to Jesus’ passion, it leads us to an obvious question: what exactly is being birthed?
Well, let’s back up just a bit before we try to answer that question. The structure of each of the four gospels is, in a sense, a very long prologue to the climactic account each of them gives of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In its own way, each gospel first wants to get clear that in his teaching and ministry, Jesus offers an alternative vision for humanity that is not founded on the violence and self-centeredness of human life, but in the peaceableness and self-offering of God. That’s why today we read the hymn from Philippians, of Christ “not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” That is the essential character of God: self-emptying love.
The crucifixion, then, is not just the final episode in a biographical story, but the fulfillment of everything that Jesus has taught and done. That’s why reading the passion story in its entirety during Holy Week, as we did from Mark this morning, is so powerful: we get a chance to see the full consequences of Jesus’ complete self-offering, through which (as the Easter hymn puts it), “the powers of death have done their worst.” Yet, as we already know, it turns out that even death is no match for the power of the vision that Jesus offers us: a life lived by love in service to others.
So perhaps what is being birthed on the cross, is a new humanity which through Jesus, turns away from violence, manipulation, and domination, toward a life focused instead on respecting, serving, and even loving the other—no matter who that person might be. This new humanity birthed through Jesus on the cross is God’s substitute for the narrow, self-serving idea we have of ourselves, with which we are all too familiar (especially in the current political climate). So in a sense, Jesus does offer himself as a substitution after all—not as a substitute victim for the penalty of our sins, but as an alternative pattern and vision for human life.
Yesterday, as I was listening to the speeches at the Albuquerque March for Our Lives rally (organized almost entirely by high school students), I was struck by how this moment in our nation’s political history, also feels like something new is being birthed. There is so much about our civic lives right now that is truly painful. Yet here is a new generation, suddenly awakened to a political activism that is bold, fearless, pragmatic and determined. As one letter to the editor in the Times put it, “We seem to have entrusted our future, to a group of high school kids.”
Like the Passover in Egypt, which finally liberated the people of Israel from their slavery, perhaps we are in another such moment that we will look back upon as the time when a new era of common purpose and common good began to emerge, thanks to the courage our children. Perhaps they too will have a dream, and make it to the mountain top, from where they will see a promised land of peace and respect and dignity for all toward which they will lead us—though Pharaoh’s heart may yet be hardened against them.
How important, then, to be reminded this Holy Week, that on the cross Jesus gives us hope through his own birthing of a new humanity, that we can all imagine and bring into being a world that is better and more just than the one we are living in now. Because of the birth pangs Jesus bore on the cross, we know that we do not have to accept the world as we found it, nor the world as it has become, as anything more than a mere vestige of the old creation that Jesus has now upended with the new. As Julian finishes her canticle, “When all was completed and Jesus had carried us so for joy, still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love. For the love of Christ works in us; Christ is the one whom we love.” Amen.
18 March 2017
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“The hour has come …” (John 12)
Today’s gospel is rather like a trailer for a new feature film that is just about to be released. Jesus gives his disciples highlights of what is to come: his soul is troubled, sensing his impending betrayal. He anticipates his death, but realizes that it is part of a great struggle with the evil of the world, and that through his death the evil, the “ruler of this world,” will be driven out.
We are prone to hear of all this as a kind of unfortunate conclusion to the life of a true prophet. We may see it as a bit like the assassination of Martin Luther King, or of Gandhi: a life cut short by regrettable violence.
Jesus, however, doesn’t see it that way at all. He is quite clear that the death toward which he is headed is a fulfillment of who and what he has been, not its end. That’s what the language of being “glorified” is all about: the time is coming when the full meaning of his ministry will become clear.
And the observance of Holy Week, which we begin together next Sunday, is meant to do exactly that: to bring the meaning of Jesus home to us. Now I know, that looking at the Holy Week schedule that is printed in the service leaflet this morning, your first reaction may be, “that’s an awful lot of church!” But let me take some time here this morning to suggest that what it represents is an invitation into a spiritual pilgrimage, a five-act drama which is not to be missed!
Act One: Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion. This is the day that lays clear the underlying problem which has to be confronted: the hypocrisy, selfishness, and corruption of human nature. At first, the crowd greets Jesus with branches of palm and cries of “Hosanna!”, betting that here is someone at last who can get them what they want: the security and prosperity that would come from throwing off the Roman yoke.
When it turns out, however, that Jesus has come bearing a message of obedience to God through service and self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s neighbor, the crowd immediately turns on him. Cries of “Crucify!” replace the hosannas, and we are left with the realization that what is being enacted is nothing less than a struggle over whether God’s vision of a humanity driven by the mercy, love and compassion with which we were created will prevail, or something less. In short, will we human beings succumb to our basest instincts, or will we rise to our greatest potential? We are left with Jesus on the cross to ponder that question.
Act Two: Maundy Thursday. Here the drama circles back upon itself, returning to the night before Jesus died. This is one of the most intimate nights of the whole year, when the community of the church gathers with Jesus in the upper room to share with him the Passover meal. But Jesus takes that meal, and uses it as the opportunity to put all his cards on the table: “I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another.” Obedience to God will no longer mean fulfillment of the religious requirements of the Law, but instead a life that is given to supporting and helping those around us. And as a sign, Jesus stoops to wash our feet.
But there is more: knowing that the commandment to love will need constant renewal and encouragement, Jesus gives us the gift of his continuing presence with us, taking bread and wine and promising that whenever we share it in his name, we will sense him at table with us.
Again, though, the scene suddenly shifts, and from the intimacy and reassurance of the upper room, we find ourselves in the garden where Jesus is betrayed, arrested, and dragged off to trial. Only the silence of a watch through the night remains, as a kind of interlude between acts, as we contemplate the events to come.
Act Three: Good Friday. Events now come to a climax, as we walk with Jesus through the events of his Passion. This is not, however, a day of defeat, but a day of victory. Despite every insult that is hurled against him, every wound that is inflicted upon him, Jesus refuses to accept the status of victim. He is not the victim of these blows, but the one who forgives them. He refuses to give in to the cycle of recrimination and retaliation that drives human affairs, and thereby demonstrates his power over them. He dies violently, but does not return violence. And so he dies in victory over violence, for its hold on humanity is broken: in the crucified Christ, God shows us another way, a stronger way, whose ratification will come in the resurrection.
But first, Act Four: Holy Saturday. In the creed, we say that at his death, Jesus descended into hell, a line that we pass over rather quickly without paying much attention to it. Yet in Christian tradition—and especially the tradition of the Eastern church—that is an extremely significant affirmation. For it means that in his death, Jesus goes to the nethermost regions of the world, to a place that seems to be an infinite distance from God, and there summons those who have lost all contact with the love with which they were created to come forth and return to the life God has in store for them.
“The Harrowing of Hell,” the day is called: the day Jesus arrives at the gates of Hades and throws them open, giving his hand to Adam and Eve themselves who have languished for so long East of Eden. In the Christian East, churches are strewn with laurel leaves this day, as a sign of the victory that has been won. “No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infect the ground!”
Which brings us to Act Five: the Great Vigil of Easter. If somehow we as Christians were forced to give up every other service of the year, if we could hold on to the Easter Vigil, we would still have the faith intact. It is the moment when the church gathers to rehearse the whole story of our relationship to God: from our creation, through the experience of liberation from slavery at the Red Sea, to the promises given through the prophets of God With Us. We baptize, to make people part of the new vision for humanity that has been given in Jesus. We proclaim through Jesus’ resurrection that God’s resources for ennobling our human nature are not exhausted in death, but that our nature is perfected, not ended.
And then, for the first time since we were at table with Jesus on Maundy Thursday, he rejoins us for another meal, fulfilling his promise that in Spirit he would not leave us alone and confused, but continue to be with us to encourage us, strengthen us, love us, guide us. That First Mass of Easter is a promise fulfilled, the font from which flows every other service of the year. In fact, all else is only the overflow from that mystical moment when “earth and heaven are joined and humanity is reconciled to God” (as the Exsultet, the great Easter hymn, puts it): even the services of Easter morning that follow are a kind of epilogue.
So all this comes as an invitation: an invitation to join in the pilgrimage which we will together make through the mysteries of Holy Week. It’s not something we can do alone, because it touches all of us, and each of us. It is, literally, the heart and soul of what we as a community of Christian faith are all about.
Moreover, no one Passiontide is like another, because no one year is like another. We bring to the pilgrimage this year, for instance, hearts that are especially heavy with concern for the safety of our children in school; concern for the chaos, selfishness and recrimination into which our government has fallen; concern for the ways in which the ugly face of bigotry and prejudice has so shockingly reasserted itself; concern for the sabre rattling around the globe that stirs fears of war; concern for the anger and sense of exclusion that divides us from one another.
Yet these are precisely the reasons for which we enter the pilgrimage of Holy Week. It is the time when God meets our worst, with God’s best, and the result is nothing less than a new creation in Christ. It is the time we finally realize, that the way things happen to be, is not the way they need to be. We are bound for that promised land. Amen.
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
11 February 2018
“And Jesus was transfigured before them,
his clothes becoming dazzling white.” (Mark 9)
Transfiguration, or more precisely, Jesus’ transfiguration: “A complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful state,” as the dictionary would have it. Jesus, on a mountain, with his closest disciples, changed before their eyes into a heavenly vision, with Moses and Elijah in attendance.
But what are we to make of it? Clearly the disciples themselves didn’t know, for they were terrified, and could only blubber rather incoherently about making three dwellings to preserve the moment, sort of the equivalent of posting a picture of it on Facebook I suppose.
Perhaps our best clue about the meaning of this event is its placement in the lectionary itself: we are reading it today, on the cusp of Lent, and it feels a bit like the future has caught up with us. That is to say, the appearance of the transfigured Jesus is quite similar to the appearances the resurrected Jesus will make after Easter: an ethereal atmosphere, terrified disciples, reassuring words.
So perhaps the transfiguration is meant to remind us, once we get into the dark days of Lent and Holy Week, that this is the Jesus who will be arrested, tried, and executed. The one whose life was shown to contain within it the very presence of God, which on the mount momentarily burst out and overtook his human nature as a foretaste of what was to come.
That much seems fairly clear. There is a connection between the mount of the transfiguration, and the mount of Calvary: it is one and the same Jesus, whose divinity is shown today in dazzling white, but whose divinity will be shown then in emptiness and sacrifice.
And yet it feels as if there is another layer of meaning here that we also need to find, but which is harder to put our finger on. Pondering that question, I came across this week the tributes that were paid to Vincent Scully, a legendary professor of architectural history at Yale who recently died. He opened the eyes of generations of students to the beauty and grandeur of the built environment, and was famous for the passion and imagination he brought to reading works of architecture.
In a book he wrote on the pueblos of New Mexico, for instance, he described the Acoma mesa as the “acropolis” of North America, likening the church of St. Esteban to the Parthenon that presides over Athens. Or bemoaning the demise of McKim Mead and White’s elegant beaux-arts Pennsylvania Station masterpiece in mid-town Manhattan, which was razed in the 1960s to make way for the awful Madison Square Garden with its subterranean train station, Scully said, “[Before] one entered the city like a god. [Now] one scuttles in like a rat.”
In any case, one of Scully’s best known pronouncements was that architecture must be “conservative, experimental, and ethical.” Conservative, not in the sense of illiberal, but in the sense of preserving something of great value. Experimental in the sense that it must always innovate and recreate itself. And ethical in the sense that it must recognize that live up to the fact that buildings are ultimately about creating communities in which people can live and flourish, and not just a monument to the ego of the architect.
Those three words—conservative, experimental, and ethical—struck me as being related in some way to this deeper meaning of transfiguration that we are looking for. And they do so in this sense: who Jesus is has everything to do with God’s vision for human beings. In his life, his teaching, his self-offering, he is constantly trying to get us to have a larger and more generous understanding of who we are meant to be.
And in the transfiguration, those three elements are each powerfully present: the conservative, experimental, and ethical. The conservative in that the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus clearly evokes that the received expectations of individual responsibility and social justice represented by the law and the prophets are not supplanted by Jesus, but incorporated into what he taught.
The experimental in that Jesus pushes beyond the strict requirements of the law, to a new interpretation of it as the law of love. As he begins time and again, “You have heard that it was said, … but I say to you love your enemy, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
And the ethical in that the law of love which Jesus taught is always focused on the building of a peaceable community where everyone has a place, which Jesus calls nothing less than the Kingdom of God.
The transfiguration, in other words, not just a momentary affirmation of the divine nature of Jesus’ mission, but also a permanent vision of the underlying worth and dignity of human nature as well, as God intended it to be in the creation. In this Black History Month, we are mindful of the dream of a nation untainted by the scourge of bigotry and racism. But we would do well to remember that in the first instance, that is God’s dream, and one which we only inherit. Perhaps it would not be too strong to say, therefore, that Jesus’ transfiguration is an invitation for us to be transfigured into that dream as well: to make room for the best that is within us to overtake and overshadow our more sinful side. To nourish our best instincts toward generosity, creativity, and compassion so that they simply crowd out our worst impulses toward selfishness, banality, and greed.
Come to think of it, isn’t there one of our national patriotic songs that alludes to exactly this idea that by living into Christ’s holiness, we are made holy? What are those words …
In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Could it be, that this Lent which is almost upon us, could be a time for us to renew our commitment to God’s vision for who we are meant to be, and to commit ourselves to praying and working toward our mutual transfiguration? To focus on a vision of ourselves individually, and of what we hold in common in our communities, in which our desire for the good, the just, and the compassionate overtakes and outshines our baser tendencies toward the vulgar, the deceitful, and the exclusionary? Thank God it’s almost Lent, we need it so much! And not a moment too early! Amen.