I consider myself to be an amateur historian of sorts. I delight in perusing journals, wills, letters, and other ephemera, and in wandering through antique shops, libraries, museums. This immersion in other times, other places, other lives frequently leads to me to ponder, “What do we remember, and why?”
I bring this curiosity about remembering to the story we hear in today’s Gospel. I imagine Peter and James and John with Jesus, who perhaps has stepped aside to pray, when suddenly two other figures appear. Miraculously, Peter, James and John immediately recognize the pair as Moses and Elijah. How did they know? Was it some kind of spiritual memory that made this recognition possible? And what, in turn, moved Peter so quickly to propose an unlikely spontaneous construction project of three booths?
I suspect that the idea was sparked by a desire to honor the three: Moses, giver of the law; Elijah, miracle worker and prophet; and Jesus, rightly identified by Peter as “The Messiah of God.” And in honoring, to embed the memory of this encounter firmly in their own personal histories. To remember.
In this sense, to honor is to remember; to remember is to honor.
That sounds simple, but you know it’s not. Not all memories are good. Not all acts deserve to be honored, in the sense of esteemed.
As citizens, we have memorials and holidays set apart for remembering: think of the statue depicting a larger-than-life George Washington on his horse in Boston Public Garden, or the statue of Mary Dyer, hanged on Boston Common in 1660 for her religious beliefs. Consider the festivities of the Fourth of July, when the bells in our tower ring out loudly; or the controversies surrounding the observance of Columbus Day.
As Christians, we are immersed in memories both pleasant — incarnation, resurrection, and redemption — and unpleasant — injustice, cruelty, and betrayal. We remember and honor these events throughout the liturgical year, repeatedly cycling from Christmas joy to Good Friday sorrow to Easter joy.
In scripture, in prayer, in liturgy, we are instructed, time and again, to remember. Likewise we implore God to remember.
Consider the last words of fallen humanity to a dying Christ: “Remember me, O Lord…”
And among the last words of a condemned Christ to his friends and followers — to them and to us — “Do this in remembrance of me.”
We open Lent’s long purple season with the mandate to remember that we are but dust, and with our subsequent cry to God: “Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses nor the offenses of our forebears…”
Every eucharistic liturgy is permeated with the need and necessity of remembering. Pay close attention today and you will hear again and again “remember.”
Every eucharistic liturgy is directed toward transformation — both a foreshadowing and memory of the transfiguration of Jesus. In transformation, we are shaped; our form is changed, re-membered as “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus Christ.
In transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in his divinity: we will not, we cannot, witness the resurrection; but the transfiguration grants humans a revelation: the divine vision of Christ’s true nature. The transfiguration shines the blinding light of God’s glory into the darkest corners of our lives.
These words about transfiguration from Michael Ramsey may be especially meaningful to us in a time of transition: “Transfiguration is to accept the situation as it is, and to carry it into some larger context which makes some sense of it and gives the power to grapple with it. That larger context is Jesus crucified and risen, and we are called, again and again, to be lifting human situations into that context and finding in that context new and exciting things begin to happen to the situations, and to us who are confronting them.”
Here at the Church of the Advent, we’ve got a lot of remembering, a lot of honoring, to do, on both a micro and a macro scale.
December 1, 2019, marks the 175th anniversary of this parish. It is our daunting and delightful task to remember the parish’s past — and to remember ourselves into the future God has prepared for us. In delving into the past, there will undoubtedly be some surprises — for example, photographs that a reveal a freestanding altar — right here — or that document a performance of liturgical dance — right here.
Revisiting the period referred to as “The Troubles” that took place a full generation ago can help us to remember that in the fullness of time, eternal truths survive no matter what we may or may not do. There are people here who can recall some of these things, and others to whom they will be news. There will be many opportunities where we come together to jointly and severally remember events large and small in the life of the parish, to honor this milestone. If the past holds surprises, we can only imagine what the future might bring, as we imagine ourselves into the future.
Right after Peter suggests building three shelters, a cloud comes and overshadows them; and they are afraid as they enter the cloud. To be shrouded in fog or cloud on a mountainside is disorienting, even frightening; it’s easy to lose sight of the way ahead. But God’s darkness is brighter than even our brightest light.
After the experience of seeing Moses and Elijah with Jesus, James, Peter and John keep silent and tell no one of any of the things they had seen. But our task now is to share with each other, with the world, the heavy joy of faith. In our isolation, to listen for the voice that calls us, “Follow me.” To hear in the deepest chambers of our churning hearts the voice of God pointing us ever closer to the incarnate, crucified, risen Christ: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Ramsey quote: Retreat Address given to the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. From Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.