Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There
I’ve always loved the stilling effect of a snowstorm. Cars stop. Noise stops. It used to be that school stopped, which was of course the very best part when you were a kid. Our ears tuned to the radio as the list of school closures was read, listening for our district.
This morning one of our neighbors was out early shoveling, which was a good thing to do. But I was a little irritated. I wanted everything to remain pristine, stilled.
Snow storms seem, as least in their early hours, to be an invitation. “Don’t just do something . . . stand there.” Stand there in wonder at a million, trillion intricate crystals piling up as if to cover our sin. It was the desert father, Gregory of Nyssa who said, “Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything.”
Tomorrow is “Transfiguration Sunday” in church, so named for the story from the Gospels that always comes on the Sunday preceding the beginning of Lent. Lent begins the following Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. To my mind, the Transfiguration is a, “Don’t just do something, stand there” story.
In it Jesus took three of the disciples, Peter, James and John up a high mountain. There he was transfigured, filled with light, dazzling. He was joined by Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing prophecy.
Peter was terrified by all that was happening. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, he told Jesus it was a lucky break that he and his buddies were there. They would construct three shelters, or shrines, for the three luminaries. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here, let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.”
When things happen that overwhelm us — like love or the birth of a child, surviving an accident that was a very close call or encountering an animal, say a bear, in the wild — we may feel the urge to do something. There’s a different possibility. An invitation: don’t just do something, stand there. (If the bear comes after you, there are probably different and better choices, but until then . . .)
As Peter blurted out his proposal, a cloud overshadowed them all. A voice spoke out of the cloud. “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” I think there were four other words that got lost in translation. “Will you shut up!”
And with that, the moment was over. “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” That’s the way it is with luminous moments, with “mountain-top” experiences. They break in upon us unbidden. But they do not last. To have something to do or to capture the glorious moment — either or both — might have been what drove Peter to action.
Beyond “don’t just do something, stand there,” the Transfiguration is something more. It is, you might say, the “light at the beginning of the tunnel.” That tunnel being Lent, the forty days devoted the story of this world’s mounting resistance to the Light and Love of God, until finally the light is extinguished. But it also a promise, the promise of light at the end of the tunnel. A preview, so to speak, of the resurrection and its glory.
The way this text (Mark 9: 2 – 9) is often preached is to say, “We cannot linger on the mountaintop, we must return to the valleys of service.” True enough. But that’s not really quite what happens, or at least all that happens. The first question may be, “Have you been to the mountaintop? Have you seen the beauty of the Lord . . . fallen silent before Christ’s majesty?” The way I’ve phrased that may still put too much emphasis on us and our doing, whether we’ve been to the mountaintop. The focus, in the end, isn’t on us, but on the One of whom the voice from the heavens says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
As Epiphany began, so it concludes with a revelation, a revealing of Christ as Lord.
And, as we begin Lent, there’s a further note in this story. It is Jesus who leads the way down the mountain, into the valley, on our behalf. It is not simply that we must go down to the valleys of life to serve. It is that Jesus went there to serve us, came here in search of us. To find us in the dark, shadowed valleys where we have become lost. He entered into the depths on our behalf.
Lent is a season, but Lent is life. The moments of bright light and brilliance are few and do not last. The shadows are often deep, the struggle with demons within ourselves and in the world continues, daily. There is one who goes before us, who has taken the burden upon himself. When they looked around, “They saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.” Only Jesus. In the valley of the shadow, in all the lents of life, he is with you, he is for you. He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Deep breath . . .
Time now for a walk in snowy woods.