Years ago, in my ministry as parish priest, I was charged with design of a new worship service to be held on Sunday nights. It was meant to be innovative, distinct from traditional Sunday morning services. People would be encouraged to dress casually. The mood would be informal. Sermons would be conversational. We would streamline the liturgy. Music would be eclectic. We would bill it as contemporary.
It took discernment, praying and planning over several months. We weren’t exactly sure how it would unfold, so we did a trial service, a dress rehearsal. I remember the date: October 10. There were a lot of rough edges that night. The service went way too long. Some things were confusing to worshippers. Some seemed kind of cheesy.
So after that first service, we met during the week, made adjustments and offered the liturgy again the next Sunday night, October 17, our official debut. It went better, with notable differences from the first night. I was pleased with it. Pleased until I was greeted at the end of the service by angry worshippers: “That’s not how we did it last week.”
It took one week, one service to forge immutable tradition. It reminded me that we are creatures of habit. How quickly we form patterns of ritual! We’re not wild about change.
Two days ago, we observed the Feast of the Transfiguration. It’s a story about change, told in the passage from Luke in the column on the left. Jesus with his best buddies Peter, James and John head to the mountaintop. Something happened up there, something glorious and awesome (in the true sense of the word). It’s scary and wonderful. Jesus gets all radiant (Think Steven Spielberg). Moses and Elijah appear with him (though I’m not sure how the disciples recognized those guys. Nametags?).
Peter, unfettered mouthpiece for the disciples and all of us, thinks it’s grand. He says to Jesus: “Let’s fix this moment in time. We’ll build a shelter, a home, a museum, a religious theme park for you and Moses and Elijah on top of the mountain.” A cloud from heaven intervenes, suggesting that while the moment was indeed marvelous, it was not meant to be fixed in time. The disciples were meant to move.
There are a lot of directions a preacher could go with this story. To me, on this Monday, the story says that in life, in the spiritual journey, nothing is certain but change. We can’t stay where we are. As Pope Francis said in a homily: There is no such thing as a stationary Christian. We may be blessed with extraordinary epiphanies, moments of insight and awe. They are not destinations. They are instruments, leading to the new thing that God has for us, sending us into the world to do God’s work.
This Monday morning, listen to your life. Think about the new thing God might have in store for you. Imagine it. Prepare for it. Are you open to it? It may be a change of circumstances, heading down from the mountain. It might be an interior shift, a movement of the heart, involving forgiveness and healing and grace. We worship a God whose business is apparently to make things new. What will that look like in your journey? Pray for the grace to welcome the new thing God intends. It’s all part of the spiritual adventure.
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