This week, I have been transfigured by the face of CHRIST, not glowing on a mountaintop, but weeping. It is an image which will not leave me. This weeping CHRIST plays on an endless loop in my mind unravelling my carefully constructed images of the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the LOVE we have the audacity to call “GOD”. The endless loop projects many faces of CHRIST. The first face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Father who is struggling to say good-bye to his young daughter. The second face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Child rubbing her eyes in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of her own tears. The third face of CHRIST belongs to a Ukrainian Mother holding back her tears as she embraces her little family. My words are not up to the task of describing CHRIST weeping in this way. So, I invite you to see for yourselves. If you cannot bear to look upon the face of CHRIST, that’s ok. Just stop this video and take a moment or two to pray. Pray deeply, reverently, and then fast-forward to the music. view on video
It wasn’t until that young Dad buried his face in his daughter’s chest that I recognized the face of CHRIST. I had been watching the media reports for days, not really believing that war was imminent. I confess, I was in denial. After two long years of isolation, I have learned how to block out the world. Whenever the news became more than I thought I could bear, I just switched it off. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all must take care of ourselves. But lately, the news has encouraged us all to begin to emerge from our pandemic protocols. Bit by bit, hope has begun to build upon hope as we look forward to Spring when we call launch forth into fuller more robust living. Sure, we know there are still problems in the world. We know we still have work to do. But for a brief time, our longing for Spring stirred expectations in us which heralded better times ahead. There was no room in my wildest imaginings for thoughts of war. In my bleakest moments, I could imagine the worst. But I refused to believe that it would go as far as war. It was just politicians doing what politicians do, rattling sabers like little boys, stomping their feet, and insisting on their own way. Surly, even Putin will come to his senses. Concessions will be made, and war averted.
As tensions escalated and our world held our collective breath, the fragility of the peace we cling to, the peace built through military might, and threats of violence and mutual annihilation, this illusion of peace was threatened by the ambitions of a powerful oligarch obsessed with delusions of restoring tribal supremacy for his once mighty nation. And then, just like that, we were back there, back in the unthinkable darkness our parents spoke about, the darkness of war in Europe. I could feel the temptations to violence rising in me. Surely, the Americans have an agency for this. Too, many Hollywood movies, inspired me to flirt with violence as I yearned for some secret agents to take him out. One clear shot and Putin would be gone. Sacrifice one for the sake of the many. I thought, or hoped, sometimes even believed that the myth of redemptive violence could no longer tempt me. Alas, if only.
I’m a child of my times. I expect people to act. I expect things to be resolved. I expect solutions. I expect that whatever needs to be done will be done quickly, so that I can get back to normal. If that means violence, well maybe I’m not the pacifist I claim to be. If a few well-placed bullets could reunite and restore that little Ukrainian family, maybe Jesus was wrong about non-violent resistance. Maybe Jesus was wrong about justice as the only way to peace. Maybe if we are unwilling to fight, all we can do is join our tears to the tears of that little Ukrainian family. That’s the loop which has been playing round and round in me, all week long. I don’t know how to stop this loop from playing. I don’t have any solutions to offer you. I share these tears with you knowing full well that tears won’t put an end to war, nor will they end our constant reliance upon violence to maintain a fragile peace.
It wasn’t until this endless loop exposed the presence of yet another face of CHRIST that I begin to be transfigured. Suddenly, in the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see the tears of generations of weepers. In my mind, I saw old black and white faded images of other little families. But there were no tears to be seen. Perhaps photographers of old avoided them, maybe people back then were better had holding those tears back. In those sepia images of sad, forlorn, frightened faces. Some walking away to become refugees, joining the endless flow of the displaced. Some were staring vacantly through time, like the tens of millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death during the Holodomor by yet another brutal Russian dictator. Others, they looked confused and terrified as they are loaded on board trains. Generations beyond any camera’s reach, each with their own pain. Pain and suffering perpetrated by our species’ vain conviction that violence is the way to peace. In the tears of that little Ukrainian family, I began to see yet another face of CHRIST, a face I had refused to see before. The face of CHRIST which must be seen if we are to end this madness. I confess, that I can’t quite see CHRIST in that face yet. Hell, I don’t want to see it. His eyes are too beady. His expression too smug. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I must learn to see the face of CHRIST in my enemy. Vladimir Putin created in the image of the DIVINE.
Can we ever learn to see the face of CHRIST in one such as him? I don’t know. I do know that the followers of Jesus held dear their vison of Jesus, in whom they saw the CHRIST. In Jesus they saw CHRIST. So much so that they confessed their desire to stay with Jesus in the splendor of that mountaintop. There far away from their world, they were could safely worship Jesus. With visions of a grand and glorious past they were free from the dangers of the violence being wrought upon their world by the forces of the Roman Empire. The ravages inflicted by Rome were as horrendous as any barbaric acts of war the world has ever seen. I can see on that endless loop little families in Jerusalem, fleeing to the safety of the countryside, passing endless crucifixion sites.
The safety of the mountaintop must have been glorious. No wonder Jesus took Peter, John, and James up there to pray. They all knew the dangers of traveling to Jerusalem. It was so good to be there, where they could see in Jesus the face of CHRIST. But Jesus did not let them linger for very long. There was work to do. Jesus’ way did not include taking up the sword to achieve peace.
Jesus was steadfastly committed to non-violent resistance to the abusive powers of empire. Jesus’ Way of being in the world rejects the myth of redemptive violence. Followers of the Way are called to reject the myth of redemptive violence. Jesus’ Way of being insists that justice for everyone is the only way to peace.
Justice will exact our tears. But they will not be tears cried in vain. These tears will wash away our illusions of a quick fix and wipe away our delusions that by violently enforcing the status quo we can create peace. Peace is created by through the difficult work of LOVE, LOVE which is embodied when justice and not violence becomes our way of being in the world. Peace begins with non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is dangerous. It can be deadly. Jesus experienced that. Not all of us are up to the challenges. So, let us begin with our own lives, our own daily challenges, let us strip ourselves of our own entanglements with violence. As for seeing the face of CHRIST in our enemies, let us try. Let us do everything we can possibly do to challenge our own assumptions, to see beyond our own violent tendencies, our own selfish desires, and slowly, painfully slowly learn to love our enemies.
I’m not talking about some Pollyanna notion of passivity in the face of violence, and I know that we are not going to solve our addiction to violence anytime soon. I know that we won’t solve it in time to save Ukraine. But we must honour the suffering of generations, by doing something now, so that generations from now little families won’t have to cry all over again. We must put aside our expectations of a quick and easy fix and settle in for the difficult generational evolution of our species.
As for that little Ukrainian family, what do we do in the wake of their tears? Well, for now, we weep. We join our tears to theirs and when we have no more tears to cry, we roll up our sleeves and we do what we can to help them. We are smart. We are privileged. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of the generations who have gone before us. We have technology and access to wisdom. We must put all our many blessings to use, to seek justice where-ever we can whenever we can.We can’t do it all and we can’t do it alone. But we can do something, and we can work together.
We can be transfigured by the face of CHRIST which is revealed to us through the tears of all who suffer the ravages of injustice. Sure, it would be nice to just sit here in the relative comfort and safety of all that violence has built and maintained for us. But we have seen the face of CHRIST, and CHRIST compels us, through CHRIST’s tears, to go out from the safety of our lofty positions, down into the violent world to be the LOVE which creates peace through justice.
There is one more face of CHRIST which I would like you to see. It is not a lofty mountaintop vision. But it does have the power to transfigure. It was recorded Saturday morning, after a rocket exploded in an apartment block in Kiev. I’m convinced that it will not be difficult to see the glorious face of CHRIST in this: view on video
That beautiful, glorious embodiment of CHRIST is singing these words: “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom,” She has courageously begun the difficult, painstaking, slow work which lies before her. May we be transfigured by her courage to do our part to turn her mourning into dancing. Let us begin the difficult, painstaking slow, work of wiping away every tear from the eyes of our sisters and brothers. Let us be LOVE in the world. Amen.
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