It is good for us to be here. It is really good for us to be here.
Rachel Meriwether came to us at St. A’s for the first time about a year and a half ago. She hoped to have a family of her own, and to have family around the children she hoped to be a mother to.
And here you are, Baby Francesca Elizabeth – Baby Frankie, as we know you. And here you are, family by birth, and family by choice. And here you are, family by church.
Indeed. It is good, really good, for us to be here.
Today’s gospel tells the story that is always told on the last Sunday before Lent begins: the story of Christ’s transfiguration. Peter and James and John go with Jesus up a high mountain – and it really is high, I’m telling you, with switchbacks and all manner of craziness to get to the top. And there, as the gospel tells us, in Mark’s economical language, Jesus is transfigured before them. His clothes become white like you cannot even imagine. They are too bright for you to even look at them. And as if that’s not enough, suddenly the four of them are not alone. Because the prophet Elijah, who we heard about in the first reading, the one who got fantastically swooped up in front of the prophet Elisha in that business about chariots of fire and went on to ascend in a whirlwind into heaven, well Elijah (not Elisha) is there with Jesus also. And Moses as well, who died before leading his people into the Promised Land that was his 40 years’ journey…Moses is there with Jesus too, there on that high mountain, in the midst of the land that he had promised the people.
Can you even imagine?
Do you know people who, in spaces where they get anxious or scared, just start talking? Are you one of those sorts of people? I can be. And in those moments, when I don’t know quite what to say, if I’m particularly out of my skin, I can sometimes just start saying lots of words in the fervent hope that some of them stick, that a few of them turn out to be the Right Thing To Say.
So I have some sympathy for the apostle Peter, who I think has lots of feelings, who seems from time to time to be well outside of his own skin, and who can tend to throw a whole bunch of words up against a wall, hoping that a few of them just might stick, that one phrase, that one sentence, that might be the Right Thing.
We know that Peter and James and John are terrified. Not “a little anxious” or “maybe rather uncomfortable.” The text says “terrified.” It does not, however, tell us that James and John stammer around, though. No, that’s Peter’s role. Peter is the one who just starts talking: “It is good for us to be here,” he says. “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” And I'm pretty sure that, left to his own devices, he would have just kept on with the words and the talking. Because ‘he did not know what to say,’ the text tells us…because ‘they were terrified.’
God saves them, though, in spite of their terror, in spite of Peter’s stammering and wordy solution to his own fear. God saves them from that moment – because a cloud overshadows them.
(Can you imagine? A high mountain, and your friend and teacher suddenly transfigured before you, too bright to look at, and then he’s there with the greatest hits of prophet and patriarch, and then you can’t see because you’re in a cloud?!). I reflected on this passage this week with a group of colleagues, and we talked about this cloud being the Cloud of Shushing…the Cloud of Be Quiet.
There comes a voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!”
Could the be: The Cloud of: Listen!
Here’s the thing, though: we’ve heard that phrase before, and recently.
In the place where this gospel account begins, without reference to angels or magi or a baby, we hear instead about another prophet, one who wears camels’ hair and eats locusts and tells people to repent. John the Baptist meets his cousin Jesus, at the beginning of the good news of Mark’s gospel, out in the wilderness of the Jordan River. Jesus goes there, to be baptized by John, over that prophet’s protest. And as he comes up out of that muddy baptismal water, the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven says: “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well-pleased.”
It’s not so very far away from “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen!”
And still, it is good – really good – for us to be here.
Baby Frankie, your mother Rachel and I have been talking about your baptism for a while, now. As church, we laid hands on her and prayed for you on Mother’s Day last spring, when it became real for all of us to anticipate that you were coming into the world. I came to bless you just before your birth at the hospital, at a time when it felt like a kind of cloud was descending, when your mama was scared, and was back again the next day to welcome you into this life. Your first trip anywhere was to come here, to this church, where people have been scooping you up since probably almost that first visit. One of our members, as she held you, said to me, “The church has a new baby!” She joked about saying that you get to go home with your mama, but that really, you belong to us all.
When your mama and I talked about her hopes for your baptism, she said, “I want Frankie to know, for the whole of her life, that she belongs. That she is loved. And this is the place where I know that is true.”
Well. It is good for us to be here. And that is true indeed.
So we celebrate this day, this very good day, when it is good for all of us to be here – for you, Baby Francesca Elizabeth, and for your family of birth, and your family of choice, and your family of church. You remind us of how good it is, for all of us, because our love for you reminds us of God’s love for us. Because I believe that the same love that makes our hands itch to be the next ones who get to hold you, is the very love that God has for each one of us, the God who is always waiting impatiently to hold us near…to adore us…to say “This – THIS – is my child, the beloved.”
I wish I could say that it will all be easy, that you will never be terrified, that you won’t have those moments that we do that cause us to lose ourselves. I wonder if you, like Peter, like me, will be the kind of person who finds herself out of sorts and just starts saying a lot of words.
Remember, when they come, that those are moments. Jesus doesn’t stay there in the waters of the Jordan River, he isn’t stuck up on that high mountain forever. Sooner or later, the cloud dissipates. Jesus leaves the river of his baptism and goes out into the wilderness of temptation, and from there will begin his ministry of healing and teaching and feeding people. He walks down off the mountain of transfiguration, and very soon will set his face toward Jerusalem.
You will come and go from this place, Baby Frankie, and all of you who are here with us. And maybe this will be the place where you will see the heavens torn open. And maybe this will be the place where you are transformed. Whatever comes, I pray that you will know that this is your home – that you may know, that we all may trust, that we are known, that we are loved, that we belong, together at home in the God who claims us at the mount of transfiguration, at the waters of baptism.
It is good for us to be here.
So, Beloved, God's chosen, let us go, now, together, to the font of our salvation.