"The Normal is Narnia"
Preached at St. John's Episcopal Church
Honeoye Falls, New York
Feast of the Transfiguration
10 February 2013
Day Texts: Exodus 34.29-35
2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2
-Grace, mercy and peace are yours from the Triune God. Amen.
-So you may have noticed that, in the past couple days, its snowed. Just a little bit, right? The South Wedge neighborhood where I'm the pastor of a new mission start, the South Wedge Mission, looks for me, literally, like a dream come to life. Like one of those Dickens' Villages, with the tiny English cottages and fake snow that my mom used to set up around the Christmas time. It's magical.
-And see, I kind of secretly always wanted to live in one of those cottages in one of those tiny English villages. And the South Wedge, it kind of looks like one of those villages. Come to think of it, it kind of looks like here, Honeoye Falls. Growing up, my cross country friends from Fairport and I would come down here all the time. Mostly to hang out with the HFL cross country girls! And I always loved the water falls, and the mill, and the taverns, and the friendliness. So it's an extra joy to be here on a morning when the world has been, quite literally, transfigured.
-And if that sounds cheesy, it's almost like God is daring us today with today's Gospel and this cloak of white that has been draped over the world. How can we not recognize the obvious set up here as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration? And why would we not want to? When the ordinary world of normal, ordinary things, suddenly changes, and becomes for us a kind of dream scape? I was especially delighted by a photo I saw online, I think from the New York Times, delighting in the fact that all the street signs are covered, the names, obscured. "We could as well be in Narnia as New York," the caption mused. Indeed.
-Its awesome to live inside the magic. To take a break from reality. I could sit inside all day, taking the invitation of the piled snow drifts, and just watch the flakes fall and dance in the wind.
And I don't really want the sun to come out. Which is saying something, living up here in one of the cloudiest places in the country. Partly because the sun is a complete liar here. It gets colder when the sun comes up, unlike in Denver or North Carolina where I've spent the past few years. But also, because it means that the play has ended. The snow plows come out to sweep the stage. And as you know, the snow gets dirty. Disgusting. You all know what I'm talking about!
-And we can't avoid shoveling anymore. I'll go out and shovel all morning. And then the damn snow plough comes by, and chalks up all that slush from the road, and I get splattered, and my driveway gets re-covered, and the magic evaporates to the dirt and messiness of ordinary life. And it's bittersweet. Not only do we have to go back to work or school. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "when the cold rains came kept on and killed the spring, it was as if a very small child had died for no reason." So too, with the snow, and the snow ploughs, and snow shovels of death.
-Now, there's one thing that's good about all this. See, in the Wedge, when winter hits, people hit hibernation mode pretty hard. Everyone's holed up in their houses. And having moved there just before Christmas, it's been a challenge to meet people. But any time there's a snow fall, everyone comes out. To shovel. Like a crazy Minnesota block party, we're all out there, doing work. It's on those days that I'm driven by the dirtiness and the disappointment into wonderful conversations and new connections with my neighbors. As we all move on from the "mountain top experience," it's kind of neat how an ending gives way to a new chapter, of work yet to be done, community yet to be remembered. The drudgery of the ordinary retains a dim recollection of the magic of yesterday.
-Like I said, I feel God totally tossed us a softball regarding today's Gospel. Because I wonder if having lived through the highs and lows this week helps live through the Transfiguration with Peter, and John and James. Now, for those dopey disciples, ascending Mt. Tabor with their teacher was not some pre-manufactured, pre-parketed "mountain top experience." They almost fall asleep for Pete's sake! If anything, my money's on the possibility that they do this quite frequently. I hear them grumbling, "oh man, climbing another dang mountain so he can pray again. Why can't he just pray in a valley for once? Or a nice level plain?" It's par for the course. An ordinary everyday experience.
-They're probably itching to go "back down into the valley," as the well-worn spiritual idiom runs. Given that the disciples are always falling asleep when Jesus prays, maybe those of us who aren't so good at charismatic prayer can have some hope. Maybe Mr. Messiah wasn't the world's most thrilling pray-er. Or maybe it's just a routine.
-And then, in the midst of just another prayer meeting with Jesus, he goes radioactive. Lights up. Glow-in-the-dark Jesus. And beauty floods the whole scene. And minds are positively blown. And then dead guys show up. Moses and Elijah, the heroes of the Jewish faith. Dead heroes. Talking. With Jesus. At the prayer meeting. Talking. Dead guys.
-And not just talking about glory. This is not a "hey, haven't seen you since you got Incarnated, how's it going with those dopey disciples," kind of talking. But St. Luke tells us they are discussing what Jesus is about to do in Jerusalem. About the cross. About death. About the sacrifice that Jesus will make for the love of God's children.
-It's a crucial pivot point in the drama of the Gospel. When we shift from the romance of a promising, exciting ministry of healing and revolution and proclamation. To the dark truth and hard reality of what is to come. Bittersweetness. As if a very small child was to die for no reason. Everything is, quite literally, down hill from here to Jerusalem. The magic's going to end. The snow is going to get dirty.
-And of course, Peter picks up on this. I can just see him, stirring from his sleep. And even more persuasive for him than radioactive dead guys is the sudden echo of that word. Cross. Jesus. Death. And so Peter does what Peter does best. He tries to dissuade Jesus from dying. "Um, master, you know we could just stay here, right? I'll make you a nice house. A hermitage. Be your butler. James can get you groceries. Keep Moses and Elijah around if you want to. This place we didn't really want to be? It's looking like prime real estate right about now!"
-We know what Peter is feeling, right? Who wants to go down into the dirtiness? Where failure after failure awaits the disciples. Where torture and death and separation and betrayal await the fellowship. Where there's hard work to do. Where we might have to actually die too. Remember, the very next story in the Gospel is of the disciples utterly failing to cast out a demon from a little boy. It's a messy world ahead. The magic doesn't work there, in the valley of the dirty snow.
-To be fair, maybe Peter's also trying to protect Jesus. Maybe we all want to stay in these magical moments, because we're with Jesus. We're actually with Jesus. Miracles and magic happen here. And suddenly, compared to climbing the Mount of Calvary, the same old prayer meeting on Mount Tabor becomes pretty enchanting. A place where goodness could still prevail, a happy ending is possible, where people don't have to get scarred and nailed to trees. We want safety for our family and our friends, and we want stories where we can dwell as little children full of life and wonder and surprise and delight. And also the familiar.
-And to all of this, Jesus says: "it's time to go down." And ironically, at the point where Jesus calls for the scene to end, there's actually a lot of Gospel. A lot of hope for the next chapter. Because Jesus is not going down alone. And neither are the disciples. Just as he had to lead them like little children up to the top, now, he must also lead the little children down. But it is Jesus leading the way. And it is Jesus, walking with us, towards Jerusalem, into the dirty snow, and back into reality.
-But I wonder if we have to see it as a dragging. Perhaps it's less like a nagging parent pushing a stubborn child out to shovel snow. Maybe it's more like that poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Where he says that "Christ plays in Ten Thousand Places." Maybe that little talk with Moses and Elijah, maybe it charged Jesus up. Maybe the light remained sparkling in his eyes, along with the tears.
-And maybe, just maybe, the descent was more like a game. Of tag. Or hide and seek. Like David Tennant's Doctor Who, maybe the Doctor of our souls, Jesus, said, "Allons-y!" or "catch me if you can!" And so, strengthened and cheered their souls as they went back into a world still glowing faintly with the radiation of the transfiguration. A world, as Hopkins noted, that is "charged with the grandeur of God."
-And just as Doctor Who keeps coming back to delight in the people of earth, just as the Pevense children desire again and again to return to Narnia, so Jesus desires to come back into the world. Jesus joys and delight in rejoining us, down below, in the ash and the dust and the dirty snow. Because you see, Jesus' glory, even on the mount of transfiguration, is not a clean, separate, set-apart glory. It is a glory that includes talk of the cross. And so can find glory, and beauty, and magic and enchantment, not just in spite of suffering and loss and failure and brokenness, but actually, in the failure and brokenness.
-That's what we Lutherans call a "theology of the cross." That this crazy Time Lord of a God, this dancing lion CS Lewis called Aslan, this Jesus, brings us down to play the game. Of hide and seek. And delights in hiding most in the shadows. Where we will have to follow to discover him.
-Its obvious that Jesus believes that descending back into the mission, the mission of healing and proclamation of Good News about the grace of God is more important than remaining in private ecstasy. But there's more to mission than that. Maybe the mission of Jesus, and the mission of God's people the church, isn't just to go and tell the News about Jesus. Maybe it's also to go out and discover where God has been playing hide and seek all a long.
-Because, you see, the blessed radiation of the Transfiguration enables us to see the secret we were never quite able to find. That in fact, the world is charged with God's grandeur. That Jesus is hiding in cracks and ashes and failures and ugliness, as much as in beauty and sunsets and all that hippie stuff.
-That, in fact, when we forget the names we thought we knew of the streets we walked every day, we discover: the normal is now Narnia. It has always been Narnia. And it is ours to discover. And ours to enjoy. And ours, as the place, the story and the stage where we play with Jesus, and discover, hidden in the shadows, unending and blinding light.
-I wonder if we can believe that. That the Good News is not only just that Jesus appears in glory and reveals his divinity. But that the glory Jesus reveals involves the cross. Involves dirty snow. Involves going out to fail again and again at the hard work of suffering, and shoveling, and trying to do miracles that are ultimately beyond us. And discovering in all that, that in fact, the glory is rising up. That when we shovel away the mud and the grime, there is rich soil under neath. Just waiting for spring. Waiting for new life to grow. In our world. And in our souls.
-The normal is Narnia. Narnia is not without pain. Narnia is not without failure. Narnia is not without dirty snow, not without endless winter and never Christmas. But it is Narnia nevertheless. It is the world that God loves. It is Christ's playground. It is the place where Jesus is hiding, eagerly waiting to be discovered. Eagerly desiring to be followed.
-So let us go out into the normal Narnia. To Honeoye Falls, and Fairport, and South Wedge, and to Beechwood and Calcutta and Khartoum. Seeing the shadow of the cross that leads us into the dirty snow and broken places where God is hiding. But also, remembering, that the shadow is cast by the light of a greater glory that is charging the world. And changing us. And maybe, just maybe, bringing us a little bit of magic.