The season of Epiphany is ending this week in a blaze of glory. Literally.
The last Sunday before Lent begins brings us the story of the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9), a mountain top moment when Peter, James and John witness Jesus transfigured - “his face shone like the sun” - and see him talk to Moses and Elijah. The disciples are overjoyed to be there until they hear a voice from a cloud say “this is my son, whom I love - listen to him.” Now they’re afraid, but Jesus tells them to get up and follow him down the mountain, asking them to keep to themselves what’s happened until after the resurrection. As a closing story for the season of epiphany, it’s a grand moment of revealing, epic even. From here on, these disciples will see Jesus in a different light.
I guess. I mean, I wasn’t there but I can’t imagine that you’d have an experience like that and not see things a little differently. A moment of joy, a moment of fear, all enshrouded in a mystical cloud on a mountain top, a truly sacred place in the bible. That’s a spectacular moment.
Perhaps that’s the problem, though. It doesn’t take a mountain top moment to see people in a different light. What it takes is engagement.
I was thinking the other day about the journey of our church community. It’s probably more familiar than not, but I think it went something like this.
There was a time, back in the day, when people around here homesteaded. When they gathered for “church,” it was in a home and it was family, maybe a few nearby neighbours, if there were any, and the pastor came to them, probably on a horse. People saw each other in a certain light.
And as there were more people, and people were closer together and there were towns, they built a little church. Everyone contributed to it, either with materials or labour or money. Most certainly everyone contributed their opinion and maybe that didn’t always mean agreement, but things got done and people gathered together for church. And they began to see each other in a different light.
The community grew and soon they needed more than an itinerant preacher. Not everyone agreed, to be sure, but they looked for someone and they hired their first minister to live in the town. A house was built, the minister arrived and things were good. Mostly. Sometimes the minister didn’t always say what people wanted to hear and they did use more coal than most people thought they should, but the found a way to keep things going. And people began to see each other in a different light.
Soon the church wasn’t big enough. Or it needed its own Sunday School room and hall. You can’t have everyone always going to the minister’s house for classes or bible study. So a new building was needed. Somehow they found the money for more land and people chipped in and they got a foundation in the ground and then a nice new church above it. There were differences of opinion on what should go where, whether to spend money on actual stained glass and if those pew cushions were really needed. But, in the end, it was done and people began to see each other in a different light.
The little local church weathered many a storm brought on by the decisions of the national church and there were times people came and went and there were celebrations and there were conflicts. And each time, people learned to see each other in a different light.
Here we are now with two churches in two different communities, Bashaw and Ponoka, coming together to create a new thing called Rising Spirit Ministry. And when they met, they didn’t negotiate, they didn’t argue or demand or defend, they created. And they found a way to share in providing ministry to each of their communities with the help of technology and create something else, an online community that could reach out and connect with people who couldn’t - or wouldn’t - sit in a church building. It’s not perfect, the tech is sometimes a problem and there are different opinions, but it seems to be working. And I think we begin to see each other in a different light.
The thing is, right from the beginning, it isn’t just each other we begin to see in a different light. The moment that shines a new light on our lives and helps us to see the world a little differently might not be on a mystical, cloud enshrouded mountain top. It might be in a valley or on a plain, in a garden or a wilderness, with a crowd or just one other, in a living room or a church hall.
And it’s more than a moment, it’s the future. That’s a key part of the Transfiguration story: they went with Jesus down from the mountain and out into the world. They didn’t remain in that moment of engagement, they used it to move forward. Tempted as they were to stay there, wrapped up in the moment, they didn’t. Jesus pushes them - and us - to move forward, to take our experience and share it.