The Transfiguration is a big deal. How do we know this? First, it appears in three of the four gospels. Second, we always read the passage before Ash Wednesday and it gets its own festival day on August 6th. Lastly, there’s what is actually in the passage. Jesus is changed from his earthly form to his resurrected form (but that’s a different reflection) and the embodiment of the Law and Prophets, Moses and Elijah respectively, show up and three disciples are witnesses. While it would be obvious to focus on Jesus glowing like and LED or the appearance of Moses and Elijah and derive some good lessons from that, I think there’s a message embedded deeper in the passage.
Peter, in the midst of this experience, cries out to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…” Before he’s even done speaking, the moment has passed and Jesus is on to the next thing. In this case, the next thing is heading to Jerusalem and eventually to his death and resurrection.
Peter gets caught in that trap that get each of us so often in the Church, both individually and institutionally. We find a spot that is comfortable and we want to stay there. Note: this is not always a good place! Many of us get stuck in nostalgic pasts that never existed, or in a way of doing Church that spoke to another generation but is foreign to the moment, or some of us even get stuck in abusive cycles where we no longer see the difference between healthy boundaries and ways of being and unhealthy ways of being and relating to the Church.
But Peter should have listened to himself. The word for dwelling in Greek is “tents.” Tents- the most nomadic of dwellings. Once you have set one up, you are already thinking of taking it down and moving on to the next thing. The word tent here would also draw a Greek-speaking Jewish audience to think about the festival of Sukkot, a time when observant Jews build and lived in (and still do to this day) temporary dwellings. This moment was never meant to last! Neither does any time period in history or any one moment in our lives. We are not meant to get overly attached to anything. We pitch our text, then it’s time to pack up and look for new ground.
When I was at the SSJE Monastery, the Brothers would speak frequently of their founder, Richard Meaux Benson, who said that the Brothers of SSJE were to be “Men of the Moment.” The truth is that our Christian faith calls us to be people of the moment, fully present to the realities of culture and time. We are to remember where we are from, but be what the time we live in needs us to be. We are to speak to the time and place we find ourselves in. We are to relish the awesome things that happen and then it’s time to pack up the tent and move on to the next thing. We are not to linger on the good days nor get stuck in on the worst day of our lives. We are to experience, reflect, and grow, but we are always to be on the move.
Has your tent been standing in one place too long, good or bad? What tents do you need to pack up this week as we prepare for the start of Lent?