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Countdowns and Transfigurations

by Lindsay Lunnum

I am acutely aware of transitions. Not just the new job, new relationship status, new school kinds of transition. I’m talking about transitioning from the house to the car or from the playground back to home.

My seven-year-old son has autism, and for him, moving from one activity to another can be really startling and upsetting. I am learning how important it is to walk with him through a transition. We count down the minutes before we shift to the next thing: “Five more minutes until we leave the playground and go home … four minutes … three minutes. …” My son gets so completely absorbed in the moment, in whatever is occupying his attention, that there is no opportunity for contemplating what’s next. And while I admire his ability to stay in the moment, we’d still be counting steps at the museum if I didn’t help him slowly switch gears. Perhaps that is why I laughed when someone recently commented that as I’d been the rector at my parish for 18 months, Zion is no longer in transition. I suppose it is true that my parish is past the phase of saying goodbye to a longtime rector and welcoming a new one. But in many ways, we are beginning another change. Still. And I am realizing that a big part of my ministry is to count down the minutes before we shift to the next thing.

This is not to say that I am particularly good at dealing with transitions myself. Why are they difficult, anyway? Even Jesus’s dear friend and apostle, Peter, was confounded by transition. We can see Peter struggling when he witnesses the Transfiguration. The Gospel says that Jesus was “transfigured” and his clothes were bleached to a dazzling white. Jesus’s transfiguration confuses his disciples. Peter, James, and John simply stand there and see their friend sparkling and the two greatest patriarchs of the faith standing with him.

Peter’s response makes a lot of sense to me. He offers to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. I can completely understand his desire to construct a kind of container to help him capture the moment. It’s as if Peter is thinking that this is now the way things are going to be. This is it. I like the way things are right now. Let’s keep it like this always—or at least until I can understand what is happening!

I recognize this impulse of Peter in myself. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Perhaps we can even see evidence of it in our parishes and families. There is something new, and the temptation is to claim what feels like a really good new thing as the new normal. Especially when this whole event seems blessed by the familiar characters of the tradition. Like my son when he is watching his favorite episode of The Backyardigans, Peter is basically seeing all of this, Jesus, the Law, and the Prophets—all that he knows and loves about his faith in one place—and his instinct is to make it stay. But inevitably, the closing theme song plays and the episode ends. Peter’s practically still speaking when a bright cloud envelops them, a voice from within it speaking: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” And suddenly, Moses and Elijah disappear and everything returns to its original color and lighting.

This is my takeaway from this Gospel: the past is important. It helps inform us of who and where we have been. And the present moment is a gift to be accepted and lived. But neither is meant to be preserved. Or contained. Or normalized. Just as Peter offers to make a place for the past to dwell with the present, God points out that it is Jesus we must listen to. God is calling us to listen to his Beloved. Listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus do? He goes back down the mountain!

Peter and the others head down the mountain with Jesus and with a thousand unanswered questions about what just happened. I believe we are called to do the same. We are to listen and keep walking with Jesus. With our questions, confusions, doubts, and enthusiasms. The Transfiguration is not about being done with change. Rather, it reminds us that we are constantly in motion when we follow Jesus.

Even as I am counting down the minutes for my son’s transitions, I am still learning every day that they are part of our Christian life. What God calls us to do is to listen to Jesus, to see Jesus in new ways, and to follow him where he leads us. The best way for us to do that is to start with what we know. Just as Peter, James, and John knew the Law and the Prophets, we know the ways we have traditionally connected with God and each other. But God doesn’t intend for us to keep doing the same things over and over. We are called to keep moving. Keep listening. Keep following. Because God is not static. God is on the move. God is busy at work in the world, and we can’t follow Jesus if we stay in one place.

The Rev. Lindsay Lunnum is the Rector of Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, NY. Before her ordination, Lunnum served as a staff member of Trinity Wall Street. Zion offers a service for children with special needs on the first Saturday of the month called Rythms of Grace.


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