“Down and Out”

Do you remember climbing a tree as a child?

Up, up, hand over hand.

Stretching, straining, your heart beating fast.

Until you can peer through the branches to an undiscovered country!

From on high adults look like children and houses and cars like your toys.

You could stay up there all day, enjoying the view,

but eventually the light fades and you are called home to dinner.

So down, down you go,

leaves in your hair and sap on your fingers,

into a world that will never look the same.

Downward is always more difficult.

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

Mark 9:2-9

February 14, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Do you remember climbing a tree as a child?

Up, up, hand over hand.

Stretching, straining, your heart beating fast.

Until you can peer through the branches to an undiscovered country!

From on high adults look like children and houses and cars like your toys.

You could stay up there all day, enjoying the view,

but eventually the light fades and you are called home to dinner.

So down, down you go,

leaves in your hair and sap on your fingers,

into a world that will never look the same.

Downward is always more difficult.

 

When Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up a high mountain, I suspect it was something like that – a day full of adventure and wonder, of new insights and, regretfully, going down.


While they are on the mountain they see things they can hardly believe:


Jesus revealed as the dazzling Son of God;


Moses and Elijah;


and the overshadowing presence of God.


This is such a powerful moment that it is also recorded in Matthew and Luke, so it is covered every year, no matter which year of the lectionary we find ourselves in. Other years I have talked about this surprising revelation about Jesus’s nature or the importance of the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but this year I want to focus on that last bit.


Mark says, “A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice,” God’s voice! The Greek word for overshadowing is “episkaizo” and it is the same word used by the angel Gabriel when he is explaining the unexplainable to Mary. He says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”[1]


We know what that leads to in Mary’s case – she will carry a baby for nine months!


But what does it mean for Peter and James and John?


Jan Richardson, the artist and poet, writes, “Each tale reminds us that we cannot contain or confine God within man-made structures. When God shows up, God goes not for architecture but for anatomy. Or, rather, God makes architecture of our anatomy: God seeks to make of us a dwelling, a habitation for the holy.”[2]


It was not easy for Mary. That fleeting moment of overshadowing changed her whole world! Oh sure, one day led to the next, just like she was climbing a tree. And sometimes she caught glimpses of joy and excitement in this world she had never seen before, but there must also have been mornings full of nausea and nights full of worry. I’ll bet during those harder times she clung to the words “Do not fear” like a sturdy tree branch.


I wonder about the former fishermen and the parallels:


Did they feel like they were God-bearers?


Did they rejoice to see the world with new eyes or did they labor under its weight?


Did they cling to the words?

 

Mary may have wished to freeze time and bask in the wonder of being overshadowed, but that was not an option. She had to go out into the world – a world of surprised parents and a dismayed fiancé, of gossiping neighbors and strict legalists, of people who were desperate for a


Messiah to deliver them, but would never look at her swelling and put two and two together.


The three might have wished they could stay on the mountaintop, the spot where they had been overshadowed, but that was not a viable option either.


As David Lose puts it, they had to follow Jesus down into the valley. “Down into the mundane nature of everyday life. Down into the nitty-gritty … of misunderstanding, [and] squabbling, [and] disbelief … Down into the religious and political quarrels of the day. Down into the jealousies and rivals both petty and gigantic that color our relationships. Down into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of our life in this world.”[3]


And so they all went, down and out.

 

That is our path too.


We have overheard these stories of overshadowing. We have retold them and wrestled with them. We have sat with them and passed over them.


But we have been able to keep these stories at arm’s length because they happened to others – to Mary, a little slip of a girl who had the courage to take on the unknown; and to a trio of Jesus’ handpicked apprentices, with all the faults and failings we know – and not to us.


And yet, some part of our souls yearns to be part of such a story, to be overshadowed.


Annie Dillard nods sagely at such yearning.


She heard about a doctor performing a cataract surgery on a little girl, a girl who, when the bandages were removed, was awestruck at seeing “the tree with lights in it.”


Those words sent Dillard on her own journey:


“It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all, and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured ... I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed ... It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance ... The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it.”[4]

 

Some people will search all their lives and never capture anything like what Dillard saw, or be captured by such a yearning. Some people will never carry life inside them, having willingly volunteered for dangerous duty. Some people will never spend time on the mountaintop, not with the Son of God or anything resembling the holy.


But many of you will!


This past year has been full of shadows,


with a COVID pandemic and confrontations between people broken by racism;


with political turmoil and economic chaos;


with some families separated and others stuck together longer than patience can endure.


But it has also been a year of overshadowing,


with nurses and scientists and ordinary folks serving heroically


and conversations bridging deep canyons and bringing healing;


with a renewed sense of what we hold precious in our civic life


and innovations and generosity and grit that have gotten people through tough times;


with technology allowing people to reconnect with friends and kin


and simple things like gardening and sharing food


getting us out into God’s creation and reminding us how to bless our neighbors.


I can see God’s presence in each of these stories –


a God who steps into our world and transforms it;


a God who transforms us;


and then sends us down and out. Amen.


[1] see Luke 1.35.
[2] from “Transfiguration Sunday: Show and (Don’t) Tell,” 2/15/2009
[3] from “He Came Down,” 2/12/12
[4] from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p.33-34
0 views

Recent Posts

See All

"New!"