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Six Day Work | Pastor Fred Kinsey
Six days later, after he first entered the hospital, after a minor car accident, a dust up at the intersection, where he lost control of his car, because he blacked out, not from drinking, he was stone cold sober and rarely touched the stuff, but his family history of high blood pressure had caught up with him, and he had had a minor stroke of some kind – six days later, after being in a semi-coma, and, the doctors had given him, optimistically, a 50/50 chance of survival – he woke up, and couldn’t wait to tell the story of what happened!
“I saw a white light, and I was drawn to it, it was beautiful, I was ready to go towards it, it was so wonderful, and I was ready. But, something pulled me back, and I knew I had more work to do here, if just for a little while longer.”
That was the story Eino Kolemainen told me, when I came to see him in his hospital bed in Iron River, Michigan. He was in his early eighties, a recent widower, and a pillar of the church, once again. He had also gone off to California and done well in business, before coming home to retire, back to his old stomping grounds, where he was born and raised.
“I never really put much stock in people who’ve said they’ve had near death experiences, and seen the dazzling white light, before. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. But I swear, Pastor, I saw it too!” And then he told me again, what he saw.
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
Like the new heaven and a new earth, the vision that St John wrote about in the Book of Revelation, to the seven churches facing persecution, at the turn of 1st century, John saw Jesus dressed in white, and Jesus, the Son of God, shining as bright as the sun.
Peter and James and his brother John, are privileged to witness the vision Jesus showed them on the mountain. Not even at Jesus’ resurrection do any of the disciples see Jesus all glowing brightly at the door of the tomb. They see the angels there dressed in white. But only later – later that day, six days later, 40 days later – witness his appearance in various places, as they went back to work and everyday life.
Peter and James and his brother John, witness Jesus talking with Moses, who also on a mountain, came close to God, when he received the 10 Commandments, and Elijah, the prophet, who was to come again to prepare the way for the Messiah, on the high mountain. Not that the disciples tell us what the conversation was about, but they definitely were drawn to the experience, amazed, and wanted more, wanted to build dwellings, stay and take up residence. But then the intensity became more than they knew what to do with, as the bright cloud of the presence of God overshadowed them and the whole mountain top. “"This is my Son, the Beloved; (says the voice of YHWH) with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" And the disciples fell to the ground… But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” And so it was Jesus, in this case, who pulled them away, and walked them back down the mountain, explaining that they had yet, a bit more work to be done.
Why does Matthew add the “six days later,” part? It must have meant something? Well, if we look back to what happened, we find it has everything to do with the work yet to be done, but a work that can’t be accomplished without understanding the Transfiguration first. Six days, ‘earlier,’ Jesus made a prediction about his passion, “that he must go to Jerusalem, and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Oh yah, that! Jesus – the Son of God, the one who revealed himself as a resurrected Messiah, talking with Moses and Elijah, both alive with him on that holy mountain in the divine cloud – still had stuff to do back down in the valley.
Jesus swore the three disciples to secrecy, until after the Son of Man had been raised from the dead. ‘No one will get it,’ he explains. The disciples might as well have told Jesus, ‘We don’t get it,’! Was it a near death experience? A near resurrection experience? What does it mean to experience such beauty, see overwhelming bright light, feel complete love and acceptance?
It’s not too difficult to understand, hopefully, that for us, having a glimpse of the Transfigured Jesus, via the gospel, we are better equipped to begin the 40 day journey of Lent this Wednesday. We have that benefit of knowing the whole story: His going to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, suffering unjustly at the hands of the leaders who felt threatened, who like those of all ages, all too often can’t, or won’t, let go of their privilege and power, and so plot to disappear, to murder, this outspoken champion and prophet, believing it will end him, and resurrect their own fame, until three days later, like an earthquake, like a fissure in the holy of holy’s, Jesus rises, and the transfiguration of our world, is begun.
Unfortunately, worldly power, has too often, not yet been transformed. When Osama bin Laden was captured, he should have been brought to trial, but instead was killed and quickly disposed of at sea. And so, we have no closure, we have no opportunity for something, at least closer, to justice, to transform us. Those who fund and encourage the status quo of perpetual war, are winning. When the same kind of capture of Muammar Gaddafi, in Libya, was mimicked by armed rebels of his own country, they probably hoped it was the end of an era, and a dictatorship. But violence begets violence, and today, their economy and society are filled with vigilante chaos.
Jesus came, not to sit on a throne and be worshiped, but to transform our hearts and minds and strength, so that we might transform and change the world. Amidst the sickening hording of ‘more,’ by the few, in ever more blindly violent and unexpected ways, how can we treasure the magnificent gift of dazzlingly complex life, this abundance of opportunity for good, God has given us? Jesus knew that talk was cheap, and symbols could only go so far- even those as spectacular as the Transfiguration.
‘Come down from this vision of the bright light, for we have more work to do,’ said Jesus, much like Eino Kolemeinen once said to me. Eino said, ‘God needs me for yet something more to do here,’ sitting up, and coming to life, in his hospital bed, eighty plus years old.
In this age of technology, when we have all we need of the spectacular, even the Transfiguration of Jesus may seem somewhat banal. Olympic ceremonies, dazzling white, and every color of the 5 Olympic rings, come to mind. And because we have seen so much of it, the dazzle has lost some of its awesomeness. The six days later, mountain-top experience is dulled.
And so, I think what this age really wants, is to do something for the world God gave us – to make it more just, more whole, more full of love and grace and beauty – all the gifts we know, in our Transfigured LORD. All the gifts each of us can claim, for our ‘six days later’ work, down in the valley.