Release & Respite
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Mark 9:2-9
In the Transfiguration today, we see what the disciples see: God reveals to them that Jesus is more than just their teacher or companion. He is the culmination of all they’ve known and believed, embodied by Moses—a leader through the wilderness and the father of a new nation. And Elijah—a prophet who told hard truths, who called his people to live their beliefs and values even when it was hard. But he’s also someone even greater: Jesus is God’s own son.
Where Jesus was just another flesh and blood human in one moment, he becomes something else in the next. I imagine he becomes other-worldly, the boundary between heaven and earth growing thin, his clothes becoming the kind of white that doesn’t happen on earth.
Through the disciples, we see Jesus for all of who he is.
It’s the first moment in the gospel story when we start to move towards a different kind of belief in Jesus. It’s the first moment we move from Jesus to Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah. It’s the first moment when we get a glimpse of the vastness of Christ—who will inspire people for centuries to come, whose teachings will guide people in creating God’s kingdom on earth, whose body—taken, blessed, broken, and given—will create belonging for oppressed outsiders wherever his followers gather.
It’s the first moment we see the Body of Christ.
I feel like we’ve been going through a sort of slow-motion reverse transfiguration over the past year. Because before March of last year, I think we took for granted just how dazzling our lives were. Even if life was hard, we could still hug one another. Even if things weren’t going our way, we could still go to a friend’s house and have some coffee or wine together.
I know these past few weeks I’ve talked a lot about how the pandemic has affected us, but I think it’s really important to recognize our grief. To sit with it. Because we are grieving. Our lives have changed. We’ve been profoundly disconnected from the Body of Christ.
But I think we underestimate how the Body of Christ is actually present with us all the time, and how we’ve been feeling its absence since the pandemic started. Therapist Esther Perel talks about those things that make us feel alive and that we’re yearning for right now.
She talks about, yes, the rush of a touch on a first date or hugging our grandmother—those close moments—but also about laughter shared with a stranger in line at the store, a waiter making a recommendation about what to order, being in a crowd at a concert enjoying a shared love of music.
I miss being on Max with all the random people who ride it. I miss chanting with the crowd at Thorns games. I miss laughing or crying with strangers in a movie theater.
That’s all the Body of Christ, too. That energy we get from all these small interactions, these tiny acknowledgements of each other’s humanity. We didn’t know how much life all these strangers could give us. How important it was just to be casually around other humans, known and unknown.
The therapist describes that feeling of disconnection as “flatness.” We’ve all been flattened. That’s what I’m talking about when I say slow-motion reverse transfiguration. Deprived of our connections in the Body of Christ, the world around us feels more dull and we literally have less energy because of it. We’re flat. We’re weary.
I’m weary. I’ll admit it. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not returning calls as quickly as usual. I hope my wife forgives me for the growing pile of clothes on the bedroom floor that seems impossible to pick up.
I’m not sure how that weariness is manifesting for you, but I’m sure it is. I hope we all have a lot of grace for one another.
And right now we’re deprived of the actual sacrament that reminds us that we are the Body of Christ.
We need to find other ways to remember our connection to the Body of Christ. And that’s what we’re making Lent all about this year here at St. Luke’s.
Usually, our spiritual practice during Lent is to give something up. In a year when we have already given up so much, I invite us to reframe this practice. I invite us to ask ourselves, “What might I release during this time to remember my connection to the Body of Christ? What might I release during this time to invite respite?"
Because like I said last week, we need respite—just as Jesus needed respite. But I think that’s easier said than done. We may not be fully aware of how committed we are to certain ways of living that are exhausting, especially now.
We may not know how committed we are to needing to be helpful—and how sometimes that need is more for ourselves than for the person we claim to be helping.
We may not know how committed we are to deriving our worth from how productive we are. Signs of this include needing to tell others how busy we are, how many hours we worked last week, all the things we forced ourselves to learn or make or do during our extended pandemic isolation.
We may not know how committed we are to going it alone. Refusing to reveal our struggles to anyone. Refusing to acknowledge that we need support.
Maybe these are some of things we need to release this Lent in order to experience respite. As our new bishop Diana wrote in a pastoral letter to the diocese on Friday, “One of the reasons we encourage giving up something during Lent is to intentionally create a sense of lack or absence in our daily routines, such that we will pause at that moment of awareness around that lack and pray.”
What would it feel like to intentionally pause at that moment of needing to help someone for your own sake rather than theirs, to pause at that moment of filling the time with work because you don’t want to know what the silence of free time might reveal to you, to pause at that moment of rugged, insistent self-sufficiency—
To pause. And then release it. Let yourself sit with the lack. And pray.
That is our practice this Lent. To learn what we need to release in order to experience respite. And I strongly encourage you to do this with a partner—someone you can check in with regularly to share what it feels like to pause and release. To hold you accountable to pausing and releasing. To remember our connection to each other in the Body of Christ.
I’m inviting all of us to partner up this Lent for this practice—because we need the Body of Christ for this. You can partner with someone you live with, but sometimes it’s even more helpful to partner with someone you don’t see every day. Someone you have to be intentional about contacting.
So after service, I’ll share a form where you can sign up to have and to be a Lenten partner. You’ll be paired with someone who wants to communicate in the same way as you—by phone or text or email or Zoom. You two will decide how often you want to check in—every day, a few times a week. It’s up to you.
You will decide what you need to release, and you will share that with your partner. It might be the same thing for all of Lent. It might change from week to week. You’ll share it with your partner, and you’ll check in regularly to share what it feels like to release it. To feel the lack. And to pray.
Lent begins this Wednesday—Ash Wednesday. Then we have 40 days until Easter. I hope in those 40 days, we will be transfigured, as Jesus was. I hope we’re able to see ourselves for all of who we are—when we let ourselves pause and release. I hope we’re able to find our respite in the Body of Christ.