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Transfiguracion del Divino Salvador del Mundo, source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration, February 14, 2021

St. Martin North Vancouver

“Love Shines Through”

I speak to you in the name of God the Trinity: the One who created us in love, who redeemed us through love, and who sustains us by love.  Amen. 

A year ago, I thought face masks were for doctors performing surgery and people who lived in polluted cities.  Now we are all wearing them to protect each other from the plagues circulating in communities around the world.  This radical change (at least, for most in the Western world) has affected our interactions with each other.  Without seeing another person’s full face, it is more difficult to understand them.  A facial covering muffles speech, and creates even more barriers to those who have hearing challenges by taking away the ability to lip-read.  But the problem is not only what we can’t hear.  It’s what we can’t see.  Many more people are struggling, along with those who have visual limitations, with how to comprehend intention and emotion.  The cues that were once available- smiles, tightened lips, wrinkled noses- are now gone.  We misunderstand even those we know well.  For those encounters that happen outside our household when we are wearing masks, we have to work extra hard to convey what we mean.  We have to find ways to let love shine through.

In North American culture, masks have often been used to hide intentions and identity.  A bank robber wears a disguise so that the security camera won’t get a good look at his face.  An actor will change her appearance to take on a role in a play or movie so that we buy into the story.  We may think of masks as an illusion or falsehood because they are hiding something underneath from our eyes. 

But sometimes the surface signals what it is covering.  In some branches of Islam, women choose to wear a veil like a hijab or burkha over some of their features to proclaim their faith (this is to be distinguished from situations where women have been pressured to adopt this form of headdress).  Several West Coast First Nations use ceremonial masks to teach the stories, songs, and values of their cultures.  The wearers become, in a sense, one in the dance with the character the mask represents. They are saying something about who they are and what they believe. 

Perhaps the most astonishing example of seeing through the mask comes to us in our Scripture passage from Mark chapter 9: the story of the “transfiguration”.  That’s a fancy theological word for knowing what someone is really like inside because it suddenly shines through to the surface.  In the case of the disciples on the mountain, they learned to see Jesus for who he really is: not just a man but divine.  The man they formerly knew as a teacher and healer was transfigured before them.

Before this moment, the followers of Jesus were doing the best they could to understand but they were limited in their perception.  Jesus had been working with them to increase their emotional and spiritual comprehension so that they could really see the kingdom of God.  Peter and James and John thought they knew their teacher, but when Jesus takes them up to the mountain peak and prays with them he is revealed in a new way.  The disciples see through his human form to the divine love within him.  They are dazzled by the holy brightness.  And after this revelation, God has to tone down the light a bit until they can stop squinting and focus on the command: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him”. 

The witnesses to this holy mountaintop moment want to cling to the memory.  It’s so perfect up here.  It’s safe.  They don’t want to put on personal protective equipment and go back down the mountain where the messy hurting mass of humanity is waiting for healing.  But love compels them to follow Jesus back into the world.  That same love that they glimpsed in the core of the One they committed to follow has to be enough to send them onward.  And now they know what is behind the mask of humanity that Jesus wears.  Even if they can’t see God’s whole purpose, they can become more adept at reading the signs of the kingdom and interpreting them for others.  To love, to serve, to forgive, to sacrifice: these actions speak louder than words.

Like those early disciples, we too can let love shine through.  Even with the physical limitations of our time, there are ways to communicate more effectively.  When we can’t hug with our arms, we can gesture to convey our longing and our compassion.  When we can’t be seen in person, we can vary our tone and pitch and enunciate clearly to be understood over the phone.  And when we are emotionally drained from electronic meetings, we can get a good laugh from a joke, or a cat filter, to remind us of the light that still dwells within. 

I remember seeing one particular image of the Ebola virus outbreaks in Africa.  In the midst of the early response, field hospitals were set up on the outskirts of towns as medical workers began to understand how contagious and deadly a disease this is.  Many people were afraid to go to the clinics because of the risk of exposure and because of the fear of western medicine.  People were dying and scared and, most of all, alone to suffer surrounded by strangers in head-to-toe protective equipment. They didn’t look like doctors, or like humans.  They looked like aliens from another planet.  One doctor took a black marker and drew a big smiling face on the front of his white plastic suit, to show his patients that there was a human inside that was trying to help them.  It was such a small thing, but it was a way to let the love shine through in the darkness of the moment.

Let us, like the disciples, have the courage to face the world, carrying with us the love that we have glimpsed.  I want to leave you with a poem, called “Dazzling-  A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday” by Jan Richardson:

Believe me, I know
how tempting it is
to remain inside this blessing,
to linger where everything
is dazzling
and clear.

We could build walls
around this blessing,
put a roof over it.
We could bring in
a table, chairs,
have the most amazing meals.
We could make a home.
We could stay.

But this blessing
is built for leaving.
This blessing
is made for coming down
the mountain.
This blessing
wants to be in motion,
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.
It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It simply knows
how to bide its time,
to watch and wait,
to discern and pray

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all it has seen,
when it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.

Amen.