Lent, Day 30: Enveloped.

Today’s reading: Mark 9:1-13

How do you (and by “you” I mean “I”) even begin to do justice to this passage–in a first-impressions-version/quick-reflection-on-the-scripture kind of Lenten daily writing? Of all the biggies, this one is right up there, and is packed from verse 1 to verse 13 with amazement and awe, symbol and substance: three closest apostles on a road trip with the rabbi; Jesus’ dazzling transfiguration; the appearance of some Old (Testament) friends; Peter’s ever-enthusiastic offer to build a few shelters; a replay of Jesus’ baptismal dedication; concerns about what resurrection means; prophecy and fulfillment and more prophecy.

You (I) could write a reflection on the transfiguration every day of Lent and every day probably come up with some new idea, insight, inspiration about it. (And maybe that was part of the point of it in the first place; no doubt those three disciples talked about it among themselves for weeks after!)

But for my first-impressions/quick-reflection purposes, I find it helpful to do one of two things with a rich, deep text like this: either to take a “big picture” view and try to think about the scripture in broad strokes, or to get up close and try to see unusual and meaningful details that might be missed in the big picture. Tonight is a “detail” night… and it became one when I read verse 7: Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

The Voice echoes the blessing that was spoken at Jesus’ baptism. Here, though, “the cloud enveloped them.” God not only speaks acknowledgment of Christ, but, in a physical way, wraps around all those who were there: Moses and Elijah–representatives of the Hebrew priestly and prophetic traditions; Jesus–the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s story through Israel; and Peter, James, and John–the first generation of Christ-followers and of the future church. Gathered there on a mountaintop, “alone” (as verse 2 says) and yet not at all alone, all these faithful followers were physically surrounded by God’s presence, joined with one another in the encompassing love of God.

A strange thing happens sometimes here in Southern California. Within a few short minutes and miles, a day can go from bright and sunny to absolutely shrouded in fog (smog?) and cloud. It is startling when it happens, a bit frightening and confusing, and makes me feel suddenly very alone. Visibility next to nothing, a chill in the air–it can feel, in a matter of minutes, as if the warmth of the day and the familiar comfort of people sharing the road are simply gone.

I wonder how the disciples experienced the cloud of God’s presence wisping around their arms, hazing out their vision? They were already frightened; I can’t help but think being suddenly immersed in a cloud heightened their fear (and then did the Voice calm them? Or did it simply give their goosebumps goosebumps?). Did they feel cut off from one another? Or did they perhaps sense even then that they were part of something bigger–a big picture that they shared with the heros of their childhoods, with their beloved rabbi, and with the great I Am?

Envelop us, O God,
across time
across distance.
Enfold us in the love
You Are.

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