When was the last time you felt the presence of God? Where did that happen? And how did it take place? I am sure that for many of us the answers would be different. Perhaps God comes to each person in a unique way. We can have long stretches when God does not seem close. And then there are times when God seems near.
Sometimes we carefully prepare ourselves to move into the presence of the divine. That is what Lent is: a season of preparation for coming into the full presence of God. At other times God surprises us. We suddenly feel the warm presence of light or hope. Sometimes God comes to us at the peak moments in our lives or when we are in the midst of celebration. At other times God comes to us precisely when everything has fallen apart and we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Sometimes God comes to us in nature and in the most elemental ways. At other times God comes to us with great drama with a miraculous presence. Sometimes God comes to us when we are alone, in the quiet of our souls. At other times we come into the presence of God as we are lifted up through a group experience. Sometimes God comes to us when we are filled with peace. At other times we feel the presence of God in prophetic anger.
Sometimes God comes to us when we are engaged in our work or craft. At other times God comes to us when we’ve had a chance to get away. Sometimes God comes to us in the careful analysis of God’s scripture. At other times God comes to us in the revelation and spirit of our hearts. Sometimes God comes to us in music. At other times God comes to us in silence.
When was the last time you felt the presence of God? Where did that happen? And how did it take place? These are questions that mark the Christian experience. They are important questions, because without the presence of God in our lives, our faith life withers and fades. Regardless of how God comes to us, we need at least now and then the sense that God is walking with us along life’s path. Somehow, someway, each one of us needs to encounter God
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which means that spring is just around the corner and Lent is beginning. This is the last Sunday of the Christmas and Epiphany cycle. On the final Sunday of that season, today, Christians for centuries recall the traditional festival of transfiguration Sunday.
What we are in the transfiguration recalling is a deeply moving religious experience of the three disciples with Jesus when they were on a mountain top. Well into their time with Jesus, after they had experienced many things together; their experience and vision of Jesus shifted. Jesus was revealed as being about much more than the healing in Galilean villages and the teachings of a wandering rabbi. The healing and the teaching were of more profound proportion. Jesus had tapped into the mysterious reservoir of love and peace that undergirds the universe. Intimately grounded in that power, Jesus was changed or transformed as they were on the mountain together. Their experience of Jesus in this new way is what we recall on this day as the transfiguration.
The transfiguration reminds us as well, that as we move through this time of the year, as we prepare our minds and hearts for Lent, as we encounter again the stories of the great passion, we also encounter God in deep and mysterious ways. For with Ash Wednesday we begin a journey that each year transforms us as we renew our lives around the principles of love, hope and compassion.
And the transfiguration story also reminds us that when we experience the sacred in our own ways, and our own seasons, there are often some common characteristics that mark our religious experience, our epiphanies.
When we feel God is close, we often experience our tradition, as do the disciples when they see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, but that tradition is part of something new and fresh.
When we feel God close, we often are on a mountain top or a height or a peak, like Moses and Jesus and the disciples, from which we can see things differently and more deeply.
When we feel God is close, we may find a mist or a cloud, like Moses and the disciples of Jesus, and sense that there is as much mystery as there is clarity to the great divine presence, that we may be humbled by what we cannot see even as we are inspired by what we can.
When we feel God is close, we may hear a voice, like the disciples, which may remind us of thunder or a quiet stillness we sense with us: a voice that helps us discern for ourselves the best way down this mountain or up this hill as we continue our lives.
When we feel God is close, we may not be able to talk about it, like the disciples this morning, because God is something that we cannot fully express and because it may be the case people around us may not understand.
When we feel God close, we often are able, like I Peter this morning, to recall that experience and use it to guide our lives and decision making as we go forward.
In our times when God is close, we draw close to our tradition and reshape it, we find ourselves at high points of life, we use the experience to guide our lives, we find as much mist as clarity, we may hear voices, and it’s something we may not feel free to share.
And in such ways and means God comes to us still. When was the last time you felt the presence of God? Where did that happen? And how did it take place? For each of us the answers are different. Perhaps God comes to each person in a unique way. And yet, no matter how unique, in each case we are encountering the same God, moving us ever more deeply into the mysterious mists of grace.