Rev. Pamela Shepherd
Mardi Gras Sunday
Some of you may be wondering why we are celebrating Mardi Gras in church. Those of you raised in the Christian faith know that Mardi Gras is not exactly biblical. Or is it?
I think that what Peter and his friends experience on the mountaintop with Jesus is something like our Mardi Gras: an exuberant and frightening celebration before they begin their walk down toward Jerusalem and his shameful, frightening death.
Peter seems to think so too. He gets a taste of what life might be, and what and who is teacher is, his radiance, and he says, my teacher, this is good. Let’s live here! Let’s build houses!
But Jesus tells his followers, We’ve got to descend from the mountain top and join real life again. We don’t get to just hang out in glory. And until I rise from the dead, (which is going to happen) don’t go talking about this moment and what you think this means. Matthew then says the disciples follow Jesus back down the mountain, wondering what this thing called rising from the dead could really mean.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday in the life of the church. We’ve renamed it Mardi Gras Sunday: a time for an over-the-top celebration of life before we descend into the Lenten season and begin to walk with brother Jesus toward the cross, asking for ourselves what this dying and this rising now could mean.
Is it only for Jesus? Or is it for us? Transfiguration means transformation, the transformation of a person into a new way of being. On the mountaintop with Jesus
his followers see him as they have never seen him. They see his radiance; they see his light. They see he is shot through with God.
They will follow him down the mountain changed by their vision, but it will be a long time, not until after he is dead, that they will begin to suspect the frightening truth that transfiguration belongs also to them. Transformation is also for us. We are called to transform and follow Brother Jesus. We are to live shot through with God’s glory, as radiant as he lived.
Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister writes, Religion, you see, does not call us to the rational. Religion calls us to the Beatitudes, to the works of mercy, to the casting out of demons, to the doing of miracles for those in need, to the being and act of irrational love and burning justice of God. That is what the Transfiguration is about, that is what religion is really about, changing ourselves so we can change the world. (“The Role of Religion in Today’s Society”)
There is a wonderful scene in the Old Testament, in book, 2nd Kings, just before the prophet Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind to heaven, which is also a moment of transfiguration.
Elijah was a powerful prophet, and a man of God. When it was time for him to die he asked his disciple Elisha, tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you. And Elisha responds, I want a double share of your spirit: Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy person just like you.
Jesus’ transfiguration transforms the disciples who witness his glory. This is not just true for Peter, James and John; transfiguration is also for us. We are called to see that in ourselves which shares Christ’s radiant glory. The Light of the world shines through us.
We all know it. We already know it. Frederick Buechner wrote: Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking with his child in the park, of a woman baking bread, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.
The Christian Mystic Thomas Merton wrote, how do you tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun?
Well we don’t always know that. We can’t always see it. But sometimes we can see it, and let us celebrate that this morning. Let’s celebrate that while no life escapes its share of sorrow and of suffering, in Jesus’ life, and in our lives, all that is human and broken and limited is also fully healed and yes, transformed.
I want that for me. I want that for you. Can we celebrate that this morning? We have forty days of Lent ahead of us. There will be plenty of time to contemplate the brevity and brokenness of life. There will be plenty of time to keep asking what this called rising from the dead could really mean.
One thing it has to mean, I think, was expressed by Paul to the church in Corinth when he wrote, And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Christ, are being changed into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor. 3:18)
And when our party’s over, and we start down toward the cross, may we each have the courage to pray like Elisha, Brother Jesus, grant me a double portion of your spirit. Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy person just like you.