Transfiguration of our Lord
Sunday, February 26, 2017
For the Anglophiles among us, the recent Netflix series The Crown is a feast that delights on so many levels. The story traces the rise of Elizabeth II to the Queen of England at the age of 25 following the death of her father, King George VI in 1952. Along with the pomp and circumstance, the elaborate costumes and stunning scenery, and the royal intrigue and the relationship with Winston Churchill and the political realities of post-war England, there exists a very intimate narration of the challenges and struggles for the young queen. In a poignant scene, Elizabeth is counseled by an older relative about her position. Basically, whatever happens, whatever befalls her, her family, her friends, her country, she must yield at all times to the needs of the crown. Silence follows. And then Elizabeth expresses the question that she has probably lived with the rest of her life, “Then what becomes of me?”
“What becomes of me?” It is an unforgettable question. Clearly, for someone in the position of royalty in England it is a bit different from what you or I might reflect upon. Yet, when you consider the various roles that we take on throughout life and the ways that those roles can overtake our lives, the question may not be so foreign. Tragically, in situations of abuse and neglect, the question is a very real one, while it may be unspoken and even unknown to the victim.
“What becomes of me?” it is a question that we roll around in our mind for the good portion of our life. There are moments when the question takes on an uncommon urgency as we think about major life choices: work, marriage, family, retirement, health issues. And there are times when, let’s face it, we ask it because we are always asking this question. We can’t not ask it. “What becomes of me?” is the existential query that plays throughout our life.
I realize that it is a bit of a leap to compare oneself with the royalty of England. And while we can recognize a commonality in asking the great existential question, “What becomes of me?” There is, perhaps, a more significant connection. Perhaps, the royals, and particularly the queen in this instance, are a helpful illustration of what occurs in the engagement of the individual—you and me—with God in Christ. Let me try and explain.
You see, the queen cannot not be the queen. While she struggles with what that may mean for her as Elizabeth on a very personal level, she will ever and always be The Queen. Within the Christian tradition, a similar situation is afoot. No, we don’t enjoy pomp and circumstance and elaborate costumes. Rather, the ontology—our being—reflects a similar cannot not be-ness of the Queen. For her, it is her royal identity. For us, it is our adoption by and being the Beloved of God because of Christ. In essence, we cannot not be the Beloved.
Such a statement may seem a bit bold and self-important. Yet, I would contend that this givenness of our relationship with God is portrayed in this way throughout Scripture. Indeed, Abraham does not choose God. God chooses Abraham. Abraham cannot not be Chosen. And on it goes with Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes of Israel. Another iteration of this is found in the text from Exodus for today. While it is not stated directly, the reality is that God not only chose Moses, but now God gives Moses and the people the law that will guide them and continue to remind them that they cannot not be God’s elect. If we move to the prophet—Elijah—who stands with Moses on the mountain where Jesus is transfigured in our gospel text for today, there is a similar quality. Elijah does not decide to become the prophet of God. Elijah doesn’t finish the Prophets 101 course and hang up a shingle. Elijah is called out by God, and his life is never the same. Try as he might—and Elijah certainly does try—he cannot not be a Prophet.
Which brings us to the mountain where Jesus is transfigured with Moses and Elijah present and three of Jesus’ friends—Peter, James, and John—there as well. It is a surreal scene. Jesus is transformed. His face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. The voice from the cloud echoes the declaration that we heard at the beginning of the season of Epiphany, “This is my Beloved.” In essence, Jesus cannot not be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the Beloved of God. There also follows on this the additional instruction, “Listen to him.” Which seems kind of redundant, don’t you think? After Jesus’ transformation and the voice from the cloud, the disciples are either going to run for their lives, or they are going to stay and they will certainly listen!
Which, indeed, is what the disciples do. They stay. However, they may have had reservations about the wisdom of their choice. When they hear the voice out of the cloud, they drop to the ground in fear. What happens next is the most interesting thing, and connects us, if you play with it a little, back to the Queen. The text reads, “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” Nothing earth-shattering about that. However, the term “Get up” is better translated, “Be Resurrected!” Now that is something to consider. Be resurrected. Be raised. And because of this, do not be afraid. Again, we return to the issue of agency. The disciples do not have the ability to resurrect themselves. That is something that God is doing. Indeed, does. In effect, you could argue that the command, “Be Resurrected!” is a declaration of the reality of their lives: You are resurrected.
Ah, and if this is true, well, the question, “Then what becomes of me?” takes on a whole new perspective. Sure, there is foreshadowing in this story of what will take place as we end our Lenten journey in the hope and promise of Jesus’ Easter resurrection. Yet, the declaration that Jesus makes to the disciples is also the declaration that is made to you. Be resurrected. You cannot not be the Beloved of God. You cannot not be Resurrected. You can deny it. You can reject it. You can continue to focus on trying to control the life you have as if you have control. But at a profound level—indeed, in the midst of fear and chaos—Jesus comes to his friends and declares a new identity. Jesus comes to us in the midst of the fear and the chaos of the myriad issues and concerns of this life and affirms the same for us. Be Resurrected. . . and you are!
“Then what becomes of me?” now takes on a whole new tone. “What becomes of me?” is not asked as a way of holding rigidly onto our conceptions of our self and as a way of controlling the world around us. Perhaps, now the question settles into the grace of those given identifiers—Beloved and Resurrected—so that we can engage the world with the same grace and wonder that has been showered upon us. This is not Pollyanna, everything is easy and awesome. This is a deeper connection to life, so that we might engage more fully with life. It is engaging with the world with you whole self, precisely because you know the answer to the question, “What becomes of me?” You are lost, found, signed, sealed, and delivered in God.