As you can probably tell by how I dress, how rarely I get my hair cut, and how often my beard gets unkempt, I’m not super keen on paying a lot of attention to my looks. I would much rather be in a hat, hoodie, and a pair of jeans than anything else in all the world. That said, I have subscribed to one secret beauty regimen during the dog days of COVIDtide that I feel like I need to confess to you. As we are all well aware, this long pandemic has been extremely challenging on us all. Personally, in my role as dad, occasional homeschooler, and rector, I’ve experienced my own fair share of stress, anxiety, and grief, and sleep hasn’t always been easy to come by. By the time the fall of 2020 rolled around, I woke up each morning looking like I had gone eight rounds with George Foreman. I was, in the language of our Gospel lesson, weighed down with sleep, and my eyes showed it, when I found myself drawn to an ad for Eye Savior soothing eye treatment. I already had a Lord and Savior but if something could resurrect the bags under my eyes it was worth a try. Now, I use it every morning, and I feel like I can at least pretend that I slept well the night before.
My Eye Savior routine came to mind on Thursday as what was supposed to be our annual diocesan clergy quiet day went from in-person to Zoom and, at least for me, was routinely interrupted by news stories coming out of Ukraine as Russian missiles, bombs, and tanks made their way into the country. COVID-19, murder hornets (remember those), tornadoes, and now war in Europe, it’s no wonder we’re all exhausted. It’s a miracle we’re not all zombies walking around in some permanent state between sleeping and awake, but we could all probably use a little Eye Savior at this point.
For most of this week, I had been thinking I’d preach about the conversation that went on between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah this morning. I had all kinds of deep thoughts about what Luke means by using the word exodus, which is translated as “departure” in the NSRV we heard this morning, but none of that seems to matter now. Now, I’m way more interested in Peter, James, and John who, Luke tells us, were “weighed down with sleep.” The Transfiguration story is told in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only Luke includes this detail about the sleepy disciples. The word that is translated as “weighed down,” is bareo. It appears only once in each of the same three gospels. In Luke, it is here at the Transfiguration. In Matthew and Mark, it occurs on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus and his disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus went off to pray, the disciples’ eyes became heavy or weighed down.
In all three instances, Jesus knows way more about what is going on than the disciples who are with him, and because of that, the disciples almost miss what’s happening due to sheer exhaustion. I’ve never felt more like the disciples than I do right now. I’m sure that God knows way more about what’s happening than I ever could, and I’m also afraid that my exhaustion will mean I’m going to miss something – possibly something really important. What’s super interesting to me is that here in Luke’s Gospel, scholars can’t agree on whether the disciples actually fell asleep or not. The verb is a passive participle in aorist tense, which people way smarter than me say can mean that they did or didn’t actually succumb to the heaviness of sleep.
I’d like to imagine they did. Here’s how I think the story goes, given my rudimentary understanding of Greek and the timeline of event. Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus. As is his wont, Jesus went off to pray by himself, and as was theirs, the disciples, exhausted from the hike, sat down to “rest their eyes.” As Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white, but the disciples didn’t notice, until suddenly, the three were jarred awake by the sound of voices. Moses and Elijah had joined the now transfigured Jesus in his radiant glory, and they were discussing his exodus, which he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter, still not exactly sure of what was happening, exclaimed to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we were here to see this. Let’s commemorate this miraculous event by building three booths.” Before he could finish his disconnected thought, a cloud of darkness enveloped the whole group and the disciples trembled with fear, when a voice came from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” Just as fast as it had arrived, the cloud was gone, and so too were Elijah and Moses. Peter, James, and John were so awestruck by what they had experienced, they said nothing to anyone.
Did you catch what happened? If the disciples did fall asleep, or even if they were “resting their eyes” like I do every Sunday after church, they were brought back to awareness by something. God wouldn’t let miss out on what was happening. The whole universe made sure that they experienced the Transfiguration, overheard the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and were attuned to the voice from the cloud. In my tired state, nervous that I’m going to miss something important, I take great solace in this. For those who are paying attention to what God is doing in the world, God will make sure you’re awake when you need to be. In fact, I think that might be what this whole season of Epiphany has been about. God is going to show up in all kinds of ways, and God will make darn sure you’re awake to see it.
For some, God’s presence is most tangible in the quietness of centering prayer. For others, God is in the wonder of a mountain stream. Still others find God when they roll up their sleeves and get to work on a Habitat house or packing a hot lunch or laying down to try to sleep on a cot in the basement with Room in the Inn. No matter where you experience God, God will make sure you are fully present. Even if you fall asleep, God will make sure you get the full experience. During our online retreat on Thursday, I heard an older priest say that the Desert Fathers used to teach that if you fell asleep while praying, it was a gift from God. Maybe God offers some soothing eye cream for when you wake up in prayer as well. We are all bone tired, and if you are weighed down with sleep and need to rest, that’s ok. Take your time. Get some sleep. It isn’t very Lenten but maybe even pamper yourself just a little bit. No matter what, rest secure, knowing that God will make sure you’re ready for whatever work there is to do, whatever epiphany there is to see, and whatever blessing there is to come. Amen.