Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky. Boxes on our calendars, boxes in our attics. We even put critters in boxes: ant farms, fish tanks, and butterfly houses. These booths for living critters allow us to keep them in one place, to hold a precious un-holdable, to glimpse the wonder of life itself.
I think this gospel lesson is sort of funny. I know, I know, it is a big deal. However you might admit it is kind of weird. ,Then it also has the comedic relief of the sleepy disciples coming up with one more bad idea. However, the part that is really amusing, is in the way that I can see myself reflected in the story. Oooooh, precious. Look it is Moses, the premium prophet is standing here, let’s put him in a booth! And look, Elijah, second only to Moses, is this an all-star game? We cannot let him fly away again, so yes, so let’s put him in a box too! And Jesus, the anointed, the Christ, look at him…so he looks different. Can we make a little box for him too? Perhaps with a light blocking curtain? Little boxes on a hillside, it is easy to see this become a strange attraction, a mini Stonehenge, a living hall of fame. Let’s take the radical call of God for us to liberate all people, and let’s tuck it away where we can find it again when we want to. Prophetic demands for justice, managed. Holy invitations to leave everything and follow, contained. One of the most amazing things we have ever seen and do not quite understand; well, we understand things in boxes.
Most of us are familiar with the butterfly life cycle. Caterpillar crawling around in the dirt on all those legs, eating and eating and eating leaves. Then a cocoon for a while, and then voila..beautiful butterfly. The Very Hungry Caterpillar made it all look quite cute and mundane. Here is the thing. That cocoon, it doesn’t form around the caterpillar skin. Nope. The caterpillar skin rips open with the cocoon material INSIDE!!! If I were a caterpillar, and my little caterpillar brain could wrap its head around the changes that lay ahead, I would be beyond scared. I might eat excessively to numb the fear. I might try to google DIY ways to stay young forever. I like my caterpillar legs and caterpillar stripes, and, well, no thank you. I do not want to experience such painful changes. I will stay here, and nibble on leaves until I get nibbled on myself!
Lent begins on Wednesday, and it is in some ways, a cocoon time. A frightening journey into the worst of humanity, into the graves we dig for ourselves into our selfishness and meanness, into the grubby messy reality of lives that are lost and broken and hurt begins on Wednesday, and it is in some ways, a cocoon time. A frightening journey into the worst of humanity, into the graves we dig for ourselves into our selfishness and meanness, into the grubby messy reality of lives that are lost and broken and hurt and angry.
We are about to get broken open, not once, but twice. Our veil of a caterpillar life will be torn in two, and then after a time, that precious shell, that will break too. There is no change without letting go, without naming our discomfort and sorrow, without scrubbing away our dragon skins. Jesus will suffer, he will die by our terribleness, but that is not the end of the story. The future that our caterpillar brains cannot imagine, is that wings of love, justice and freedom are already inside of us. No matter how many ways we try to box God in, love, forgiveness and liberation can always break through.
The venerable Rowan Williams offers us this,
“So the Holy Spirit, who always brings Jesus alive in our midst, is very specially at work in the Eucharist, making it a means of spiritual transformation. Because of this we go from the table to the work of transfiguring the world in God’s power: to seeing the world in a new light, to seeing human beings with new eyes, and to working as best we can to bring God’s purpose nearer to fruition in the world.” (Being Christian, Eerdmanns)
Perhaps the glow of Christ at the transfiguration is us. Perhaps on that day the disciples saw the world in a new light and they saw a world of disciples reflected in him. We with our new eyes, living in a fresh light, the world of faithful people turned to Jesus. Following his call to be love, to do justice, to choose wings over boxes. Perhaps in Jesus that day, they saw the eternal Alleluia, the brilliance of love, the hope of the saints, and the tears of the martyrs. Streaming through the past and the present and the future, reflecting back from him. Or maybe, shining through this one person, this light, this friend, this Holy One who call’s you his beloved.
Alleluia is our destiny, the resurrection of Easter will be our butterfly wings. We are called into a brave participation in Jesus’s life, a willingness to risk ourselves beside him in this messy broken world. To find that brilliant alleluia, we have to practice a stout vulnerability, the kind that leaves the old skin and little legs in the dust. To live into Alleluia, we will have to be astounded by the breadth and depth of honesty we are capable of. Ash Wednesday is directly ahead of us. We are invited to face courageously the shedding of our old selves, to be still , yet not unchanging and not in a box. Instead a cocoon of prayer, examination and reformation. Yet..the thing our little caterpillar brains cannot conceive of…we are going to be butterflies! We can emerge with wings! Wings! Can your caterpillar brain even imagine them? What do your wings look like? Christ invites us to rise, has made us to soar. Alleluia. Thanks Be to God for the grace of wings for which we can hardly ask or imagine.
Alleluia. Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.
February 7, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington