“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” Matthew 17:7
My friend Meta has just published a book called Ordinary Blessings.[i] As the title suggests, she’s written a series of blessings for aspects of daily life, many of which we wouldn’t typically think of as occasions for blessing. She has a husband and three young children, and she serves as a pastor at a large Lutheran church in the Twin Cities. Her days are full. So I love that she’s found a way to see the sacred in ordinary life. Here, for example, is her blessing for laundry:
I often hurry
and stuff everything in together,
every color and texture.
Then I pray for the delicates
and try to remember
how many should be spared later
from the dryer’s wrath.
It is a luxury
to wash everything on demand –
that bloody-nosed T-shirt,
the bedsheets after a child’s accident,
smelly soccer jerseys,
those pants worn more days than not.
Later I pour the basket onto my bed –
an embarrassment of riches!
My favorite hoodie is still warm
so I slide my body into its fresh scent.
I like to collect quarters
and leave them on the counter
at my old laundromat
where some spend all day waiting,
listening to the hum of garment baptism.
I love how Meta points to things we often take for granted, like being fortunate enough to wash our clothes when we need to. She invites us into gratitude for the most mundane of moments, even the ones that lead to bloody noses and grass stains. Her mention of the laundromat reminds me of the many years I’ve spent saving quarters and hauling my laundry elsewhere. And then she gives us an image of baptism as the clothes swirl in their machines, being cleansed and made ready to wear again.
Today’s gospel is the opposite of an ordinary scene. We find ourselves on a mountaintop. When reading the Bible, always pay attention when things happen on a mountain. It’s often the place where people have dramatic encounters with God.
Today Jesus is there with Peter and James and John. What unfolds high on that mountain is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. [ii] We have the dramatic lighting as Jesus is transfigured – changed, transformed – his face shining like the sun, his clothes dazzling white. (It makes me wonder how God does the laundry.)
If that weren’t wild enough, two heroes of the Hebrew scriptures show up, both from earlier centuries. We have Moses, who had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and to the edge of the promised land. Moses, who (as today’s first reading reminded us) once climbed a mountain to receive the law and the commandments from God as a gift to the people. Elijah also shows up, one of the most important prophets of Jewish tradition, one who, again and again, called the people to turn away from worshipping foreign gods and false idols and listen instead to the one true God.
The gospel doesn’t tell us if there was a soundtrack. I’ve always imagined a wonderful orchestral score by John Williams – or maybe a good cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” But at just the right moment, the clouds move in, overshadowing our characters as the voice of God sounds forth loud and clear: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” If those words sound familiar, you are right. We heard them just a few weeks ago when we read the story of Jesus’ baptism. God said the same thing then: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (see Matthew 3). But notice the addition: “Listen to him!” Pay attention to Jesus, God says. He has much to teach you and to show you. Stay focused on him.
Is it any wonder that the disciples fall on the ground in fear? Of course they’re overwhelmed. Of course they’re terrified. I would be too.
Then, in the middle of all that drama, Jesus touches them. In the midst of lights and voices and clouds and heroes who are supposed to be dead but have somehow shown up, Jesus touches them. It is a moment to simple and tender that it makes me catch my breath. He touches them and says, “Do not be afraid.”
This week we enter the season of Lent, a time we often associate with making a sacrifice by giving something up or perhaps taking on a spiritual practice. Most of us aren’t encountering historical figures and dazzling light on tops of mountains these days. But we are afraid more often than we would like to admit. Between our worry for ourselves and our worry for the people we love and our worry for the world, we can be humming with anxiety and not even realize how it’s draining us.
Jesus doesn’t just show up on mountaintops. He’s with us in our daily life and work too. Touching us. Reminding us: “Do not be afraid.”
This Lent I hope we can encourage each other to slow down, take a breath, listen and look for what is holy in the ordinary things of daily life. Because God is there – in the conversations we have in the car, in the projects we do at work and at school, in our getting dressed. God is there in the signs of nature as the world slowly comes back to life, buds and branches bursting with color. God is there in our daily chores – the laundry, yes, and others – washing the dishes, taking out the trash, clearing the clutter, making the toast. These are sacred tasks, part of caring for ourselves and our families. They are among the places where God meets us and whispers in our ear: “You are my child, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
Our confirmands have been trying what we call one-sentence prayers. A sentence that we can commit to memory or write on a card and carry with us to use throughout the week. Some of them are specific to certain situations, like praying in the shower: “Lord, help me remember that I am baptized and beloved.” Or praying in the grocery store: “Thank you for daily bread.” Or in the car: “Guide and guard me, O God.”
Sometimes a one-sentence prayer can be a Bible verse that we carry with us:
“Lord Jesus, open the eyes of my heart that I may see you clearly” (Ephesians 1:17-18). Or this one from Jeremiah: “I will not be afraid…God, you are with me to deliver me” (Jeremiah 1:8). I have a page with other suggestions if you’re interested – just ask for a copy. I know you could also come up with some great one-sentence prayers of your own.
Today I leave you with another of Meta’s Ordinary Blessings, this one based on something most of us have done at one time or another:
For Shopping at a Superstore
God, grant me the strength
to resist the aisles that have nothing to do with
Not that I brought a list.
Well, I sort of made one up in my mind
on the way here.
It’s incomplete because I can’t know
I need an eight-pound bag of pistachios
until I see they’re on sale
or an ergonomic pillow
until I’ve touched the memory foam.
I pray for every person in this store
looking for a deal and thinking in bulk,
help us build a world of parties, not bomb
May we find the items we’re looking for,
but seek our worth elsewhere.
May our decisions challenge that more is better,
always pausing to consider what is necessary.
May we be responsible for using and sharing
whatever goes home with us, today and always.
To which I can only say: Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life by Meta Herrick Carlson
[ii] I am indebted this week, as I so often am, to Debie Thomas for her reflection on the Transfiguration story: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2535