Sunday, February 7, 2016


"Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.  They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."  Luke 9:28-31

The Almanac of Last Things by Linda Pastan*

From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair--and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.

Transfiguration Sunday closes of the season of epiphany. And it’s a marvelous transition to Ash Wednesday and Lent coming only a few days later.  The way Luke tells it, days before the mountaintop of transfiguration, Jesus tells his disciples for the first time of his impending death and resurrection.  Right after coming down from the mountain, he again tells them he will soon be betrayed.  And right in the middle of this glorious scene, Moses and Elijah are talking to him about, of all things, his impending departure.  Just when we get a little more light each day and hope to start coming out of winter, theologically we are entering into a time of reflection about death, and it starts even before Lent.

Thoughts about death are literally the most morbid thing we can think about.  And we are terrible at it, honestly, because we are terrified of it.  There’s a great expression you hear about life, “None of us are getting out of it alive,” and yet it seems like as a culture we go out of our way to push that thought as far from our minds as we can. 

While this is only natural, the transfiguration and Lent tells us this shouldn’t be so.  The transfiguration is a story of such rich meaning, with Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop, and God saying, “This is my son. Listen to him!”  But at its core, it’s a story of a deeply intimate encounter between God and Jesus.  And with Jesus contemplating his death before, during and after it, one of the lessons of the transfiguration must be that drawing so intimately nearer to God inevitably means coming to terms with our own mortality. 

The challenge of transfiguration and of Lent is taking seriously our faith in the goodness of this life, the goodness of the God we meet in it, and the goodness of the God that will continue to hold us beyond it.  One of the eternal and paradoxical truths of life is that it is lived sweeter and fuller when we are reminded that it’s going to end.  The people at greatest ease in this world inevitably seem to be those who have stared death in the face and somehow made peace with it.  People's sharper edges soften, families draw closer, relationships and regrets can be reconciled, prayer life is deepened, and the living of life is not put off when we are reminded in a meaningful way that our time is fleeting. 

There’s a great Tim McGraw song that captures this.  It’s the story of a guy diagnosed with a grave illness way too soon, and how he immediately went about the business of living life to the fullest, doing bucket list items, offering long overdue forgiveness, and being present to those closest to him.  The end of the chorus he says, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” 

And yet, the theological work of bringing death to the forefront need not be limited to times of illness, funerals and Ash Wednesday.  And most assuredly, it need not be sad.  On the contrary, it holds the promise of great meaning and talk of eternal life as both a present and enduring reality. 

As the poet says, “the light clinging to the window is at its most reflective just as it is ready to go out.”   Notice she doesn’t say “just as it’s about to go out,’ she says “just as it’s ready to go out.” 

So let’s get ready for our lights to go out and trust that in doing so they will shine all the more brightly for as long as we have them.  And let us trust that in dying, as the prayer of St. Francis so beautifully puts it, we will be born again to eternal life.  May we have the faith this season to live as if it is so.  

*from Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems