You have heard me say that this season of Epiphany helps us to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” And, just in case one of the most important answers slips our minds, we end this season much the same way as we began it: with the voice of God telling us that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. It’s good to be reminded, because I think it’s easy to forget. Peter witnessed God’s voice from the clouds and we know he tended to forget who Jesus was; the same is often true for us.
I was struck by a piece of this story that I hadn’t realized before; Jesus is transfigured, his appearance changes while he is praying; and it is during that time that Moses and Elijah also show up. There are probably many things that could be said about that connection by a lot of people who will say them better than I will, but I’m going to try. It seems to me that not only has Jesus’ appearance changed but, rather, his identity has become more complete in his praying… his identity has become truer, more able to be known in his praying, as if his true self becomes seen because of his praying.
I’m not sure I am saying that well, but it got me thinking about prayer and about our relationship to prayer. If we were each to give an answer to the question, “What is prayer?”, we would probably have almost as many different answers as there are people here. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing because we all have different experiences of prayer. But I wonder, if we realize that prayer can change us? When we look at Jesus, his relationship to the Father is so close, that at least in this instance he is changed. The three disciples see him in a way that allows them to see more of his identity; his relationship to the law and the prophets is made clearer, and God’s voice identifies him as Son. At least for a few moments, it appears that in prayer, Jesus becomes more himself. What if the same were true of us?
Why do we pray? There are lots of kinds of prayers; and honestly, we get into spiritual trouble if we just think of prayers as requests. I’m not saying our desires and requests aren’t important to God; they are certainly important to us, but we also know that sometimes those requests aren’t answered the way we hope. That can leave us feeling angry, sad, unloved; and it can really damage our belief and faith in God when prayers do not get answered the way we think they should.
I had lots of thoughts about prayer these last few days; I have been trying to live into Paul’s idea of “praying without ceasing”, and I found myself connecting to different things as a result. The first prayer image I had came to me through Annie the wonder mutt, first dog of St. Michael’s. If you’ve never met Annie, well, she’s a mess. She likely has some chihuahua in her, and so she has what I like to call “the Chihuahua shakes”. She hates thunder, and on Saturday afternoon, we had some thunder, and she was sitting on my lap shaking. I got one of the soft blanket throws that I keep in the living room, and I put it over my lap. She immediately stopped shaking and settled down. I think prayer is like that sometimes; it’s that mantle around us that gives us comfort when we don’t know where to turn or when we don’t know what’s happening. Prayer is also like that hot cup of coffee when it’s cold and wet outside and you can’t get warm, and the coffee warms you up from the inside. Prayer is the tears of frustration and exhaustion that hit at 5 in the morning when a certain young man we all know and love wouldn’t go to sleep, and attacked because of his own frustration and exhaustion. Prayer is the ancient words of our liturgies that we say over a newly married couple. Prayer is the coming together of strangers on social media to pray for the people of Ukraine.
I don’t know if I am making sense here, but these are some snapshots of the weekend and I know that each of those moments changed me somehow. It certainly made me more aware of who and what was around me. It made me more aware of God who was also present in those moments. And, even in the moments where things weren’t going well, it was kind of like Annie under the blanket; the prayer was a mantle around me, around others, giving a sense of strength and even a sense of community. I know that there are people praying for me because I can feel it – much like Annie’s blanket, those prayers help to ground and connect so that the world is a little less fearful.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus prayed to the Father? I know he gave us one of the most important prayers that we have, but I wonder what that time was like for him. I wonder what the connections were that he made that changed him so much that the apostles could see the change that took place. What we know is that Jesus and the Father were so close that Jesus’ prayers were based in the love between a father and a son; a love that defies explanation. Perhaps, that is the basis for prayer – the love between the Father, Jesus, and that spark of the Holy Spirit that lives in each of us and desires to connect because in God there is only relationship that is built on love. In that relationship we are changed; we get closer and closer to whom we have been created to be. And, no matter what is going on around us, what I know is that God is faithful. I cannot explain it, I just know it. I know it because I have witnessed it and experienced it, and it has changed me.
The war in Ukraine affects us all because we and they are children of God, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer. Lord knows, there is much suffering going on in Ukraine right now, and people on both sides will die. I want to end with a prayer that our bishop prayed at diocesan council this weekend at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let us pray:
God of peace and justice, we pray for the people of Ukraine today. We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons. We pray for those who fear for tomorrow, that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them. We pray for those with power over war or peace, for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions. Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk and in fear, that you would hold and protect them. We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.