Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sharks and Eclipses and God, oh my!

In The Episcopal Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration occurs on August 6th. But the Last Sunday after Epiphany, the one I learned to call Quinquegesima when I was a little girl, is when most of us hear the story of the Transfiguration.

Depending on the year, and on whether we are using the lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer or are using the Revised Common Lectionary, we may also hear the story of how the face of Moses glowed after he spoke to the Lord on Mount Sinai. Or we may hear the story of the horses and chariot of fire taking Elijah away. Or perhaps we hear the story of Elijah waiting for the Lord, Who comes to him not in the earthquake or the whirlwind, but (as we used to hear) in "a still small voice." And then we hear how Jesus, too, went up a mountain to pray and spoke with Moses and Elijah and how he and his clothes glowed, while the voice of God spoke from a cloud. These are all stories of awe, about as far as we can get from a little baby sleeping in a manger.

The story of the Transfiguration is amazing and wonderful, and if we aren't careful sounds an awful lot like a science fiction story with an alien spaceship preparing to beam someone up - an image which got stuck in my head years ago, like an irritating tune that you can't stop humming. So when talking with the kids about the Transfiguration one year, I wanted to start with the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) story for the day. I can't recall if we were using the Prayer Book lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary. But I think the story we heard that year was of Moses asking if he could see God, and of God's response that Moses could hide when God walked by, and then Moses could see God's back.

I started by asking the children why pirates wear eye patches. The answers were pretty impressive: "Because a shark bit the eye off!" "Because the eye was hurt in a battle!"

I said that I wasn't sure about the sharks, and of course some pirates were wounded in fights, but there was another explanation, too. I said that at one time sailors had to figure out where they were by looking at the sky. Sometimes they had to look right at the sun. Doing a lot of that damaged their eyesight, so eventually they wound up wearing eye patches.

Then I asked the kids if they knew what a solar eclipse is. (Some of the older kids did.) I said that the moon comes between the earth and the Sun, and we can see parts of the Sun that are usually hidden. But looking at the Sun can hurt our eyes, like those old pirates hurt their eyes, so we are not supposed to look at the Sun during an eclipse, ever. It is dangerous.

During the time of Moses, people believed that - just like it is dangerous to look directly at the Sun - it is also dangerous to look at God. Not because God is mean, but because God is so holy and powerful. Looking directly at the face of God would be like staring at the Sun. That's why Moses had to hide when God went by, and then he could look at his back.

Now, when Jesus was born, all that changed. Jesus was God, but he was also a real human baby. He cried and he spit up and he peed and he pooped. (One little girl, very shocked, said, "No!" A boy asked why he cried.) Yes, I said, he was a real baby. He cried because that's what babies do. And he peed and he pooped because babies do that, too. He was God and you could look right at him and not get hurt.

Now I asked the kids if they ever played peek-a-boo. They all nodded. If they played peek-a-boo with someone, like their Mom, and she hid her face, did that mean she was gone? No. She was still there, even though they couldn't see her, right? Right. They knew she was still there, even though they couldn't see her.

So then, finally, I talked about the Transfiguration. Jesus and his disciples went up the mountain, and Jesus began to glow like the Sun. We can't imagine what Jesus looked like, but maybe it was a little like looking at the stained glass window of Jesus over the altar, when the Sun is shining brightly.

I think, I said, that in the Transfiguration, God was playing peek-a-boo with us. Jesus was really God, even when he wasn't glowing, but all that glory was hidden. But in the Transfiguration, God let us see that Jesus was God, just like when you see the face of someone who is playing peek-a-boo. They are there all along, but you can't see them. But you know they are there. I think that God plays peek-a-boo in Church, too. When we pray, or hear the Bible read, and especially when we take Communion, God is very close to us, even though we can't see him. But we know he is there.

I don't know if any of the children who sat with me that day remember what we talked about. But I do. For me the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus will always remind me - not of an alien spaceship about to beam someone up - but of pirates and sharks, of solar eclipses, and of a mother playing peek-a-boo.

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