by Joyce Hollyday
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them… Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three booths:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”. (Mark 9:2, 4-5)
The chapel was quiet, its lights dim. A small wooden altar held a flickering candle and a vial of rose oil. We sat in a circle, close to one another, a the foot of a large crucifix.
Sojourners Community was away on a weekend retreat after a time of brokenness in our life together. That Friday evening last fall, we experienced a time of deep healing. After each of us shared the pain in our hearts, we moved even closer, placing hands on the one who had just spoken, voicing prayers for mercy and comfort, embracing the tears.
A member of the community moved forward after each offering of intercessions, to each of us by turn. Taking our hands into her own, she anointed our palms with oil in the sign of the cross. Voicing our name, she tenderly proclaimed, “We anoint you healer, and healed; one with Christ; together in this community, the body of Christ.”
The sharing went on past midnight, with no signs of fatigue among us. We touched the presence of Christ in that room. And the embrace of the Holy Spirit, the one named Comforter, was palpable.
Unity in community often feels elusive, and that had been particularly true at Sojourners in the month preceding our retreat. The next day some of us expressed only tentative hope that the deep bonds we experienced would hold past the high emotions of the weekend.
Gordon Cosby, pastor of the Church of the Savior and a close friend of the community, listened to us speak to one another. He responded to our fears about our unity lasting: “You have to trust that the same power that produced it will be there for the next moment, and the next moment, and the next.” And he added, “The indwelling of the Spirit is not fragile; human beings are fragile.”
He reminded us of this biblical account of Peter going up to the mountain top with Jesus, where Moses and Elijah appeared. Peter wanted to build three booths, one for each of them, “to hang around for a long time and capture the moment,” according to Gordon. But, of course, Peter’s response missed the point.
We are sometimes just like Peter, wanting to capture the “mountain top experiences,” wanting to cling to the emotional moments, to enshrine and worship Jesus in all his dazzling glory. But Jesus didn’t stay there resplendent on the mountain long.
He went back to the streets, back to the poor and the sick and the lame. And he told us that whatever we do to the ones considered least in the eyes of the world, we do to him. Our very salvation, according to Matthew 25, is at stake in how we respond to the cries of the suffering ones in the world.
In inner-city Washington, D.C., just a mile and a half from the White House, 300 people line up at the Sojourners Neighborhood Center every Saturday morning. And every Saturday morning 66 year-old Mary Glover offers this prayer: “We know, Lord, that you’re coming through this line today, so help us to treat you right.”
Jesus does not ask that we build him a booth to enshrine him. He asks only that we turn our hearts to the poor and treat him right — and love those with whom we share life in the same way that we are loved by him. Then we will indeed dwell in the unity of the Spirit.
- What in yourself is broken and needs healing? Imagine yourself sharing that hurt with another person. How can you make this happen?
- Have you ever been transformed by the poor? When? What effect did it have?
- Do you fear for the unity in your family, parish, religious community? Write this note to yourself and post it: “The indwelling of the Spirit is not fragile; human beings are fragile.”
- Imagine three things that would change immediately if your family/community decided on a preferential option for the poor. What would change if the church in the U.S. chose the same option?
* This reflection appeared in Desert Sojourn: Lent 1991, published by Pax Christi USA in 1991.