Luke 9: 31-35; 2 Corinthians 3:14
As close as they can get
We just talked about an old movie not too long ago called “An affair to remember” with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It is not art, really, except for the last scene which is quite moving really. The woman and a man who meet in an ocean liner fall in love when they both suppose to marry someone else. They go back to the ones they are promised to, but leave the door open to a rendezvous six months later. If they love each other, they are supposed to meet on top of the Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the world. They both look up at it and call it “the closest thing to heaven.” That is best place for them, rooted in the world but on cloud nine at the same time.
I was never too crazy about classical music. For a long time it reminded me of dreary drizzly winter Sunday afternoons in Holland. My parents loved it however, especially Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. Another piece of music they loved I actually liked a lot too. It is still my favorite. It is Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony for the New World. On the cover of the vinyl record was a 1950’s picture of downtown Chicago, of the magnificent mile. Pulling my bag across the Chicago River at night from the L train last several days ago I looked up at the lit-up towering buildings shrouded in fog and it occurred to me that when it comes to it, the only mountains in the Midwest are the skyscrapers of Chicago. What is it about the great American center cities? Until recently, in most places around the world they build up because they have to, but they just build lower, but then a lot more of them. A city like Chicago has low buildings all around it and this towering downtown like a small mountain range. Could it have something to do with wanting to touch the heavens, while remaining rooted on earth? Come to think of it, isn’t that what we really want, friends: we want to be close to the heavens, but at the same time, we want to be rooted, at home, on earth. Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus as we do every year. It is the event where Jesus goes up the mountain and He is literally “lit” up and the disciples have this great vision, but they are terrified. They mention Moses and Elijah. The Old Testament lectionary readings have Moses with a veiled face as he comes down the mountain. People cannot see his face because it has been lit up by God. Paul in II Corinthians talks about the veil that hangs between people and God. The disciples come as close as they can get to see beyond the veil that separates them from God. They get as close as they can get as mortals to heavenly power. But maybe they almost are allowed to a little too far. They are terrified. Maybe you and I are also fascinated and attracted by but lies beyond, but at the same time we are terrified. We like being rooted in earth, comfortable with the sights and sounds and smells and feels of home. We don’t mind that veil that separates the worlds.
Friends, whether people consider themselves religious or not, they look for that meeting point in their lives where the line between heaven and earth becomes blurred. Sometimes that is in athletic achievements, sometimes it is in climbing high peaks or seeking the mystical peace of nature. Sometimes it is, stupidly, in dangerous chemical substances. Sometimes through religious practices it is the experience of ecstasy. As the presenter of the American Top One Hundred Casey Kasem used to say every week:” keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” The feeling people are after is really joy and peace, isn’t it? That joy you find in small children who still believe in the world and in adults and in the future, the peace you see in the eyes of someone who lived a good life and is satisfied with it. It is hard to find exactly. So often we are troubled by loneliness, irritation, resentment and anxiety. Most of which we hide quite well. But as we talked about already, what is behind the text is the love God has for Jesus and through Jesus for all people. It is possible to overlook that in reading the text. It is all the key to our faith and to our life. The only way to bridge heaven and earth is through the love that comes from God. The rest are just temporary experiences of bliss that come few and far between. Compassion is the glue between heaven and earth, the bonding agent, but also that which can break through the curtain between God and people, between the Holy and the Profane, between the forever and the everyday. Had the disciples understood that, they might have been a little less terrified.
Friends, if we do not understand that love thing, that compassion thing and how crucial it is, we miss the point of Christian faith and we actually miss the point of God. Love is the portal between this world where we feel so at home and rooted and the world beyond that we know nothing about, a world shrouded in clouds and fog, enthralling and scary at the same time. Thanks be to God!