This is a sermon given in my sister’s church in Port Townsend Washington. I thought it would be appreciated by those who followed the discussion on Sunday, the 22nd. (Pam Goff)
2 Kings 2:1-12 Elizabeth Bloch
Psalm 50:1-6 2/22/09
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 Last Epiphany
Mark 9:2-9 Year B
The View from the Mountaintop
In the Light of Christ, on a clear day, you can see Forever – that’s Forever with a capital F, the whole of Forever, all that there is, with all the pieces working together in perfect harmony with one another. In the Light of Christ, on a clear day, you can see Forever.
Chances are that, if you were not a music major or a physics major or an acoustical engineer, you may not have spent much time learning about the Overtone Series. So – just in case – I want to tell you a very little bit about its wonders.
When you strike and hold, for example, middle C on a piano keyboard, as it continues to sound, to vibrate against the sounding board and into our ears, if you listen with all your attention, you can actually begin to hear other pitches that are contained within that C. And the first and most recurrent pitches that you hear are the G an octave and a half above middle C, and then the next C and then the E in the octave after that; and that pattern of Cs and Gs and Es continues to sympathetically vibrate into the virtually infinite harmonics far beyond human hearing – all of them contained in that first middle C. And the intervals of these three pitches, resounding within any tone that is sounded, are the notes that form a major triad, the chord upon which we base our western understanding of harmony – the word that refers to the first and strongest natural harmonics created by any tone on any scale: the root, the fifth, and the third are the sweetest resonance to our ear because of that series of overtones that is their origin.
The thing is, unless you really listen for the overtone series, you have no idea of the power and scope of that whole resonance that is wondrously all there all the time, and yet closed to us without that awareness.
A Transfiguration moment is a moment of awareness – spiritual awareness – that seems to me something like the growing and infinitely amazing awareness of harmonic overtones. Spiritual awareness is an awareness of the harmony of all that is, seen and unseen, like a musical chord that we experience with our whole body and soul, whether we know the overtones are there or not. In that moment of grace-filled spiritual awareness, we can grasp the wholeness of all creation as the kingdom of God, where the fear and isolation that seem to dominate our lives do not have the last word after all; and we sense – in that moment – that all things really can and will work together for good 1in the light of God’s glory.
It happened for Peter and James and John that day when Jesus led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. All at once they were enveloped by the glory of God, the Shekinah2 – the cloud of God’s presence – and they could see Forever. They could see Moses and Elijah and Jesus, the Law and the Prophets being fulfilledmade into harmony with all creation in Jesus. They could see it all before they heard any words from the cloud to explain it.
They knew it was the Jesus they knew, their friend who got hot and tired just as they did, whose feet hurt at the end of a long day on the road just the way theirs did. They knew he had a mother and brothers who didn’t always agree with him, just as they did. But, that day in the light of the glory of God, they knew something much more. It was like suddenly being able to hear all the overtone notes ringing together inside the one . The light of God was shining so brightly through the man they thought they had known, it almost blinded them. There, on that mountaintop, for those moments, they were aware of the wholeness that had always held them, without their even knowing it; of the kingdom of God that was the real reality always there, beyond their everyday awareness. And later, when they looked back at that day, they could see Forever – a web of glory light that no crucifixion was able to suppress.
The mount of Transfiguration was a thin place, as the Irish would say, a place where the veil between heaven and earth is somehow permeable, and the light that shines through that veil drenches us for a moment, and we ordinary humans can see Forever, see that Forever is real and present and always there for us. We can see, for a moment, that beyond shining in our midst; and we can see that all of it resounds in harmony with itself, with us, and with all that is beyond this world, whether we’re looking and listening for it or not.
I wish we could have taken all of you with us on the Vestry Retreat last weekend; for God gave us some Forever views from our mountaintop experience together. There was joy and hilarity and room for such vision in the light of the glory of God – of ministry to the community in need around us that knew no bounds, of children and every generation of family knowing St.Paul’s as home, of God’s provision for the loving and growing of this Body of Christ already in the works in Kingdom chronology. We could see Forever, held in the light of the glory of God, like Peter and James and John. One Vestry member said in our shared homily time at the Sunday Eucharist that the thing that moved her the most was the sense all around us of such faith in the ministry and potential of St.Paul’s through all the weekend. That radiant faith held us, like a cloud of glory or the ringing of infinite overtones all in harmony with the kingdom of God.
For Jesus and the disciples, the road down that led down the mountain of Transfiguration led to the cross – and beyond it – to Easter. Peter and James and John came down the mountain with Jesus knowing that the transformation they had felt and seen was moving them, in the light of God, into a very different time, moving them toward Jerusalem and new demands that would be made on their love and faith, demands they were not at all sure they would be able to bear.
When Elisha asked to receive a double portion of the Spirit’s presence that was in Elijah – the inheritance of a first-born – it first had to be proven that he was able to see into the spiritual realm, to see the Forever, the wildly unpredictable wind and fire of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God’s own self. Elijah disappears in a cloud of God’s glory, leaving Elisha with a changed perspective, with a new awareness of the truth of Forever. This will be true for the disciples, too.
Elisha will grow to fit the mantle of Elijah, and the disciples will grow to fit the mantle of Jesus. They, in their turn, were being transformed by the Holy Spirit to reflect the glory of God.
The light of Christ shining this Sunday for us on the mount of Transfiguration, as we turn to Jerusalem and our Lenten journey with Jesus and the disciples at St.Paul’s, will shine again with the lighting of the new fire at our Easter Vigil: The glory of God revealed to us that we might see Forever with a capital F just as this journey is about to begin. The Easter promise is that that blazing light will be ours whenever a transforming awareness of the Resurrection drenches us in a cloud of glory light that no crucifixion will ever be able to suppress.
Because God longs for us – every one of us here at St.Paul’s in Port Townsend – to reflect the glory of God and to be continually transformed by grace-filled moments into Jesus’ own image. And those transfiguring moments can happen any time, because they’re really happening all the time, just like the millions of overtones sounding from every note that’s ever played or sung, whether we’re listening for them or not.
You and I can grow, as did Elisha and those first disciples, into the mantle of Jesus. You and I can reflect the glory of God and come to know, with them, the amazing perfect wholeness and harmony of all there is – and believe that all things really do work together for good in the light of God’s glory.
You and I can see Forever.