Alzheimer’s and dementia are terrible diseases. They completely transform their victims. And it’s not just their victims who suffer, but every one around them is affected. My mom’s dementia began after a stroke. She recovered somewhat from the stroke, but it set in motion the symptoms that would eventually take so much from her. There were some difficult transitions, stages of the disease, which were hard for her, and hard for those around her.
But then, came a kind of golden time, a last reprieve. I would’ve missed it or misinterpreted it, I think, if the social worker at her nursing home hadn’t pointed it out to me. She told me, “You know, Mark, your mother is now past the point where she’s troubled by her dementia. She’s no longer aware that she’s lost her capacity to remember. And she’s pretty much happy almost all the time now, and she laughs at everything. She’s quite a joy to be around.”
On my next visit to Memphis, I saw what she meant. My mom lived every moment as if it was the only moment. She was always glad to see the aids and social workers and nurses who tended her, even if she’d just seen them moments ago. She smiled and said hello every time they came into her room or passed by in the hallway. She watched their every move, and would laugh with them, and sometimes at them, as they struggled to bathe her, change her clothes, bedding; and later wheel her around the nursing home in her wheelchair.
She proved to be a favorite of the staff at her nursing home, and they gave her a bit of an honorific; she wasn’t just Peggy to them, but Miss Peggy, because, as one of the aids told me, “She’s so nice to us that we wanna treat her nice, so she we all call her MISS Peggy.”
At the end of her life, when her fears and anxieties, and all her heartaches were forgotten, she became that joyful person again; she was filled with laughter again. It’s like when all her trials were forgotten and all her troubles were left behind, she returned to her real self, her essential identity, her best self; and in many ways, she returned to what I think of as her truest self.
I thought of my mother, and the remanifestation of her truest self, a few months ago, when I clicked on a link that someone had shared on my Facebook feed. The link led to a story in National Geographic about the family of a friend of mine, a fellow priest, someone Sue and I were at seminary with. The magazine piece detailed the story of my friend Kate and her family, particularly her teenage daughter Emmie, who had come out as transgendered. The video that accompanied the story followed Emmie as she underwent gender confirmation surgery.
I’ve come to consider these two women -- one dead now for more than five years, the other starting college in the fall -- I now consider them in somewhat of the same light. At the end of her life, my mother was able to come back to what I think of as her truest self. And Emmie was able to claim her truest self, was able to assert her most authentic identity, quite early in her life. But yet both of them, through God’s grace, were able to be who they really are.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus and three of his companions, Peter, James and John, climb the holy mountain. And there a miracle takes place. Before their eyes, Jesus is transformed, transfigured into a being that shines like the sun, whose garments are made dazzlingly white. Beside him are Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the prophets, giving literal witness to him as the one predicted by the prophets, the one to fulfill the law. And a voice from heaven, the same voice that spoke at his baptism, is heard again saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
There on the holy mountain, with his companions as witnesses, Jesus is transfigured, and his true identity, his most authentic self, is revealed. Peter, James and John had known him as a Galilean carpenter, and then as a roving preacher and prophet, even as a healer and miracle worker. Then, on the holy mountain, he appears to them in a new guise, as his essential self, his truest self, his most authentic identity, as the beloved Son of God.
One of the early theologians and bishops of the church was called Irenaeus. He lived in the second century, and died in the year 202 AD. He was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul or as it’s now known, Lyon, France. Irenaeus was one of the first writers to really explore the Christian faith in a systematic, an academically rigorous, way. He wrote this about the Incarnation of Christ, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through his transcendent love, became what we are, that he might bring us to be what he is himself.”
That glorious revelation of Jesus on the holy mountain is also a revelation of who we are. Through Christ, we have become beloved daughters and sons of God. His glory is ours. His truest, most authentic self is our truest authentic self.
Jesus will come down from the holy mountain and head toward Jerusalem, where he will know trials and troubles. He will be put to death only to rise again in even greater glory -- and thereby win for us a glory everlasting, in a life eternal that we will share with all the daughters and sons of God, at the end of days.
Irenaeus also said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” I hope in your journey through this life, that you come to know times when you are fully alive, fully present in the moment, fully and authentically who you are.
It may come to pass in your life quite early, as it did for Emmie. Or perhaps it will return to you late in life, as it did for my mom. Or maybe it will come to you as it did for Jesus, in just a few moments that transform you, transfigure you; just before you face the toughest trial of your life.
As you come into your truest self, your most authentic identity, don’t be surprised if you hear a still, small voice whisper to you, “Your are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased, in you, am I glorified.”
The Glory of God is the human being fully alive. Be that glory. Claim it for yourself by being who you really are. Be witnesses to all that is glorious in those around you. Be fully alive, for in so doing you make manifest to the world the great glory of God -- which is you. +Amen.
© The Rev. Mark R. Collins