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March 6, 2019, 11:20 AM

Last Epiphany, Year C


Glow-in-the-Dark Jesus

 

Twenty years ago this summer, I traveled to Ireland with my family. My parents, my sister, and I rented a car in Dublin and drove through the country of my ancestors. For the most part, we stayed in private homes – Ireland is, after all, the world capital of Bed and Breakfasts.

 

One bed and breakfast was run by a strict woman named Mrs. O’Dono-hoo. She was quite adamant that her name be pronounced correctly: Mrs. O’Dono-hoo, not Mrs. O’Donohue. Mrs. O’Dono-hoo was a devout Christian and had statues and pictures of Jesus and Mary throughout her house.

 

Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s beliefs were very important to her and I think she wanted her guests to know those beliefs very clearly – so clearly that she had a glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight in the bedroom my sister and I shared. Honestly, my sister and I were completely freaked out by the glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight.

 

Given Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s strictness about, well, everything in her home, my sister and I were afraid to unplug the glow-in-the-dark Jesus from the wall in our bedroom. Who knew if Mrs. O’Dono-hoo had spies watching our room, just waiting to catch us unplugging our glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight!

 

Too afraid to unplug Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight, my sister and I came up with a compromise. We decided to cover the glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight with a spare washcloth from the bathroom. We were very careful to uncover the glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight when we left every morning. After all, we didn’t want Mrs. O’Dono-hoo to discover a covered up glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight when she came to freshen up the room.

 

I can’t help but think of Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight when reading the story of Christ’s Transfiguration. As disturbed as my sister and I were by Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight – and it was truly disturbing – the image of a glow-in-the-dark Jesus has stayed with me these twenty years.

 

One of the three versions of Christ’s Transfiguration is read on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday every year. Every year, we hear about Christ’s experience of glory on the mountaintop. This year, we read Luke’s version of the story.

 

Although the tellings of the Transfiguration are slightly different in the different Gospels, all of them feature a confused and bewildered Peter. Peter is surrounded by the glory of God and sees the transfigured Christ. Peter suggests that three dwellings be built – one each for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Peter wants to “freeze frame” this incredible moment. Peter wants to keep Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in dwellings, frozen in place for all eternity.

 

Poor Peter often gets beat up for being clueless. After all, Luke writes that Peter does not know what he is saying. But right before today’s reading, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter should know what is going on, even as he witnesses this incredible vision. Shouldn’t Peter know that, as the Messiah, Jesus cannot be frozen in one spot? Shouldn’t Peter know that, as the Messiah, Jesus needs to continue his earthly ministry? Shouldn’t Peter know that, as the Messiah, Jesus must continue on his journey to Jerusalem?

 

Apparently, though, Peter does not know those things. Peter falls prey to a desire to “freeze frame” the experience of Christ’s Transfiguration by building three dwellings, keeping Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in place forever. Peter wants Jesus to live in a dwelling and to stay frozen in a state of transfigured glory forever.

 

But let’s not beat up Peter too much. Like Peter, we, too, recognize and proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, but we can be just as clueless as Peter. Like Peter, we, too, want to bask in the glory of Christ’s Transfiguration. Like Peter, we, too, want to “freeze frame” Jesus in place. Like Peter, we, too, desire to build a dwelling for Jesus.

 

Let’s not beat up Peter too much. After all, we find ourselves, week after week, in the dwelling we build for Jesus. Throughout Christian history, believers have built dwellings for Jesus. Our dwellings for Jesus today are probably fancier than the one Peter imagines, but our churches are dwellings for Jesus just the same.

 

It is in our dwellings for Jesus that we encounter the transfigured Christ. We encounter the transfigured Christ in hearing scripture. We encounter the transfigured Christ in saying prayers and in singing songs. We encounter the transfigured Christ in celebrating communion and receiving the Eucharist.

 

But how often do we fall prey to Peter’s desire to freeze our encounter with the transfigured Christ in a dwelling? We do that by separating our experiences with the transfigured Christ in this dwelling on a Sunday morning from the rest of the week. Even if we don’t do it on purpose, we end up keeping Christ in the dwelling of the church instead of releasing Christ to continue his ministry in the world.

 

I imagine that Peter would be perfectly comfortable with Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight. Plugged permanently into the wall, Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight is not going anywhere. Jesus is frozen in place in Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s house. It’s probably still there, twenty years later, still scaring the travelers staying in Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s bed and breakfast.

 

How comfortable are we with Mrs. O’Dono-hoo’s glow-in-the-dark Jesus nightlight? The challenge for us today, just as it was a challenge for Peter, is to let Jesus loose in the world. Yes, we experience the transfigured Christ in this dwelling, the church. But what good is it to the world if we try to keep Jesus plugged in the wall of this dwelling, the church? What good is it to the world if we try to “freeze frame” Jesus in this dwelling, the church?

 

Let this be our prayer as we prepare our hearts for the Lenten journey – that we will unplug Jesus from the wall of this dwelling and that we will let Jesus loose on the world to continue his ministry beyond the walls of this dwelling.


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