Praying in the Dark
“Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray.”
Sometimes our Sunday readings just drop us into the middle of a story, totally unprepared.
The driver for this amazing mountain-top story of the transfiguration that we just heard is “these sayings”. “Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took them up the mountain to pray.”
What sayings? Seems like an important detail to know. What happened eight days ago?
Jesus, for the first time, told his followers that he would be put to death.
‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
And as if that wasn’t enough, he also told them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.’
That’s where our gospel begins today: in fear, in confusion and disbelief. It’s ominous. It’s heavy. It’s dark.
Which I think is where many of us are today.
This has been a heavy year, a heavy month, a heavy week.
Two years of pandemic, from which we have all suffered in various ways. A month of the trucker protest and occupation, which paralyzed our downtown, frayed our nerves and released an anger that was raw and frightening.
And then Thursday, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the largest military assault in decades. The Russian attack is crushing the people of Ukraine and shattering the illusions of so many of us beyond Ukraine’s border.
It’s ominous. It’s heavy. It’s dark.
What do we do in times like these?
Peter, James and John were feeling it.
So Jesus took them up the mountain to pray. When things are difficult, Jesus invites us to respond with prayer.
Well, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s because we don’t know what else to do. Prayer can be a last resort, something we do when we feel like we’re out of options.
But prayer is more than that. Prayer is time spent in the presence of God. Prayer reminds us that even when life gets heavy, or when we are afraid, God is with us, that God cares about our suffering and worries, and that even in the midst of suffering and darkness, God is at work to bring about healing and liberation, justice and peace.
One of my favourite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, likes to remind us that God does God’s best work in the dark. Our world may be dark right now, but God is at work.
When we pray, when we draw close to God and spend time in God’s presence, aware of God’s presence, we’re reminded of that. Sometimes, like Peter, James and John, we may even get a glimpse of God’s glory.
When it is dark, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. And while Jesus is praying, the appearance of his face changes, and his clothes become a dazzling white. Peter, James and John were weighed down with sleep, but now they are wide awake. And they see his glory, the awesome presence of God made visible in the person of Jesus.
Now, on the one hand, you could say that nothing has changed. Jesus will come down from the mountain, set his face towards Jerusalem and begin the journey that will end in his death, just as he predicted.
But on the other hand, you could say that everything has changed. Jesus’ suffering and death may appear pointless and horrific, unthinkable even, but in God’s hands, that unthinkable death will be transformed into a step towards a dramatic victory. And the disciples have been given a glimpse that it is so. When we trust that God is with us, when we have faith that God can redeem our suffering, when we have confidence that God can bring light into the darkness, then even when things get heavy in our lives and in our world, we have hope.
And that’s why we turn to prayer, just as Jesus did. Not that prayer is the only thing we’re called to. Prayer isn’t an excuse for inaction. But often right action has to come from a place of prayer. There is nothing that can remind us of God’s presence in our lives more than to intentionally spend time in God’s presence. We need reassurance and encouragement, we need to have our trust, faith and confidence restored, we need to know that God is with us, especially in times that are dark. We need to trust that God will enter our depths, in fact is waiting for us there even before we get there, and from these depths will raise us up. God does God’s best work in the dark.
In their hour of need, and perhaps his own, Jesus took the three up the mountain to pray. And there they met God, visible in the very face of Jesus, and they saw God’s glory and were given the reassurance and encouragement that they needed to continue on their difficult journey.
Now, I can’t help but notice that even though they were given reassurance and encouragement, they weren’t given all that much clarity. They weren’t sure what to do next. The voice that came from the cloud didn’t tell them why all this was happening, it didn’t tell them how it would play out, it didn’t tell them what would happen next, it really didn’t give them any details at all.
The voice only gave them one thing:
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
And that was enough. When Peter, James and John went up the mountain to pray with Jesus, they didn’t get a whole lot of details. But they were given what they needed. A glimpse of God’s glory and the faith and hope that comes with it. And their darkness was transformed into light.
And so it is with us. The world has become darker, more ominous this past week. I am saddened, I am furious, I am shaken by what’s happened in Ukraine over the past few days.
And so, I pray.
I haven’t had a mountain-top experience yet. No lights, no dazzling white clothes, no voice from the clouds. But when I do pray, I trust that God is with us, and that God is at work in the midst of all that is happening. This gives me hope. And for today, that is enough.
Let us pray.
Homily: Yr C Transfiguration (Epiphany Last), Feb 27 2022, Trinity
Reading: Ex 34-29-35;Ps 99; 2 Cor 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28-36