Monday, March 13, 2017

Transforming Fear into Love

March 12, 2017
2nd Sunday of Lent
Excerpts from Exodus 24 & 34
Psalm 83
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Matthew 17:1-9

“This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” When the disciples hear these words coming from heaven, they are overcome with fear. Moments ago, Peter had been ready to put up three tents on this mountain – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. And now, Peter, James, and John are lying on the ground in fear… until Jesus reminds them: “Do not be afraid.” In the blink of an eye, Peter has gone from the confident planner to being paralyzed with fear. And that’s not that hard to image. Fear is powerful. Paralyzing at times. Fear can take many forms in our lives. It can stop us from speaking out, for fear of retribution. It can keep us suffering in silence, unwilling to ask for help. Fear is powerful and often illogical.

In today’s readings, fear meets its match, its kryptonite, as it were. Grace.

Grace that manages to break through the normal and the everyday. That’s what we glimpse at the transfiguration, a disruption of the norm and a supernatural event that causes fear in the disciples. In the icons of the transfiguration, Jesus is usually depicted standing between Moses and Elijah, enshrined in gold and light on the mountaintop with rays of light emanating force, piercing the disciples. In contrast, Peter, James and John are shown lying down or with their faces turned away. We glimpse a moment of liminal space, a moment of transition and transformation and we become acutely aware that something is happening. Something is happening and we are invited to be transformed from fear to love.

In the first reading, we hear about another mountaintop. A mountain where Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu saw God, ate, and drank. A mountain where Moses spent forty days and forty nights before receiving the words of the covenant. And maybe we too long for a mountaintop. A place where we could go and see God face to face, to ask those burning questions that besiege us.

In this season of Lent, there’s a feeling of waiting for the inevitable. A feeling of hope in spite of the darkness. Peter, James, and John needed this hope. Six days earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that he would be handed over to the chief priests, killed and raised up on the third day. Difficult news for anyone to swallow. It is not difficult to imagine the sort of darkness the disciples were living in – having to come to grips with the revelation that their beloved teacher would be taken from them and killed. At the same time Jesus was asking them to take up their cross and follow him. We can imagine the feelings of fear, hopelessness, betrayal…through this, Jesus asks his disciples for acceptance of what is to come.

And now, Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up on a mountain, apart from the others and is transfigured before them – as if they didn’t have enough to deal with. But this clearly supernatural event only gets better. Out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus and then a voice emerges from the heavens, “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” The disciples naturally fall to the ground in fear and it is Jesus who rouses them, reassuring them and telling them to not be afraid. It might not be only fear that causes the disciples to fall down and turn away, but the knowledge and awareness that they are participating in something greater, something beyond their wildest imagination. They know they are being invited into transformation.

Who are these words from heaven for? In the disciples, they seem to cause more fear than anything. Perhaps it is Jesus himself who needs to hear these words, this reassurance of God’s love, of approval, of his mission. Despite the supernatural nature of the transfiguration, perhaps this is a moment where we see Jesus’ humanity bleed through. Aware of the task before him, the difficulty of accepting what he is called to do, he takes some of his friends and goes up on a mountaintop to pray. And what is the result? Two of prophets come to speak with him and his father’s voice booming from the heavens.

We know what comes next. We continue our journey through lent leading to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the last supper, the crucifixion and eventually the resurrection. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a moment to stand here on the mountaintop, to consider our own selves on the brink of transition and transformation. Out of fear and into love. Be not afraid. New things are scary and often hard. Sometimes we don’t feel ready for the change, something we feel that we are incapable of bearing it. We so easily forget that the journey up the mountain, the journey into the wilderness, can carry with it the potential for transformation.

Touched by an Angel,
Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

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