Sunday, February 11, 2024
When our younger daughter Grace was about sixteen months old, we took a big family camping trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park. We spent ten days’ straight in a tent with two little kids still in diapers! When you go camping, especially in an area where there are grizzly bears, there is a strict “leave no trace” policy. All your cooking supplies, cooler, food, and even toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste (anything that smells) should be locked in your car or bear box when you’re not actively using those things. But try giving your toddlers cheerios at a campsite and NOT leaving a few crumbs or scraps under the picnic table! We had a wonderful, exhausting time and thankfully never saw or even HEARD bears, but I still remember trying to “leave no trace” and feeling anxious that no matter how hard we tried, you could still see signs of our young family’s camping stay when we left the campground – bits of food, the imprint of our tent in the grass, big and little shoeprints.
You may have noticed as we’ve been reading through Mark’s gospel for over a month now that especially in Mark, Jesus keeps ordering people to tell no one what they have seen – the disciples, people he’s healed physically or mentally – don’t say anything…yet, Jesus instructs them. Leave no trace. It’s important to Jesus that the timing is right to reveal exactly who he is as the son of God and son of Man. He does not want to attract too much attention before he gets to Jerusalem to complete his mission on the cross.
So just a select, trusted few three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, go on this camping trip up a mountain with Jesus. They see amazing things on the mountain top – Jesus is transformed to reveal his full glory as God’s son, the Beloved – “Listen to him!” God commands. Elijah and Moses appear before them talking with Jesus – a sign of Jesus’ connection to the Law and the Prophets, what we as Christians know as the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament. Peter understandably wants to stay awhile and pitch some tents! This is almost unbelievable and indescribable, this transfiguration event they are witnessing! But Jesus basically urges them to “leave no trace.” Don’t stay here or set up camp. Don’t tell anyone about this; not yet, anyway – it’s not time yet. The Son of Man (that is, Jesus) needs to rise from the dead first. Another, even more amazing thing, is going to happen soon; Christ’s resurrection!
Well, as many people have pointed out over the centuries, the disciples didn’t keep this Transfiguration event a secret for long and probably didn’t wait until that first Easter to tell people about it. Thank goodness they didn’t, because we know the story! It’s difficult, as I mentioned in our own camping experience, to completely leave no trace. It’s hard to keep an incredible experience to ourselves, and the more people who are witnesses, the harder it is to keep a secret, in general. I can only imagine Peter, James, and John’s struggle to keep it quiet especially from the other disciples! And then as we consider God’s voice speaking to us on that mountain, we admit that it’s also difficult to listen to Jesus in this world surrounded by sounds and voices coming at us at all times from our families and friends, our coworkers and classmates, our phones and TVs. Listening to Jesus and following him, especially when it’s something we may struggle to do, like keep something quiet for awhile, is not easy!
Thankfully, we are witnesses to the incredible things Jesus has done POST Easter, which means Jesus doesn’t give us the same instructions to keep what we have known and experienced about Jesus to ourselves. Rather, as we turn to our second reading from Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, we are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and reflect his light that shines through our hearts. WE are Christ’s imprint, Christ’s mirror, reflecting the same light that shines through Jesus the son of God at his transfiguration, Paul encourages us. Whenever we see traces of God’s handiwork in our lives, Christ empowers us to share boldly the impression he has left on our hearts, the impact he has made in our lives, the way he has transformed us just as God transforms his beloved Son in our gospel for this morning. Just as Jesus is transformed by God on the mountaintop, so we have been transformed by Christ’s impact on our lives, and hopefully people notice that we are not quite the same because of all that Jesus has done for us!
As you hopefully already know, Ash Wednesday is in just a few days, on Valentine’s Day this year! Along with the disciples we will journey down the mountain top of glory to the valley of the shadow of death at the foot of the cross and have ashes on our forehead, and we will hear again difficult words from God to listen to: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We have a picture of Grace on this memorable camping trip covered from head to toe in dirt and dust at our campsite. We had just taken a trip to the camp showers, and not an hour later, she looked like she hadn’t bathed in weeks. Not only did we leave traces of our presence camping in Yellowstone, Grace brought some of the campsite home with her!
This week is a powerful reminder for us as Christians that just as we are called to shine Christ’s light through our hearts and point people to the impact Christ has in this world, so we, too, remember how Christ has made his indelible mark on us that we carry with us all of the time, in dust, in oil, in water, in light shining upon us and within us. We are marked with the cross of Christ forever and all that Christ’s cross means for us – suffering, sacrifice, humility and glory, death and resurrection. When Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, if you remember, he comes down the mountain with his face shining from the glory of God. Jesus shines with the glory of God on the mountain top at his Transfiguration, and that same glory and light is reflected in and through us so that people might ask where we’ve been and what we’ve done to be marked so powerfully in this way of Christ. Even as we head into the somber season of Lent, like the disciples, we hold these two glorious transformative events in the in-between; the Transfiguration is behind us and the Resurrection is ahead of us; God’s glory goes before us and shines within us. May we reflect that light and share the impression that Jesus has made in our lives in powerful ways, and leave much, much more, than just a trace. Amen.