Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-43a

Anyone who has been on an airplane can probably recite with me some of the things that you are told as a part of preparing for departure. You will need to fasten your seat belt. Insert one piece of the metal clip into the other and gently pull until it is snug across your lap. When the seatbelt sign is off, you are free to walk about the cabin, but it is suggested that you keep your seatbelt on when you are sitting down, in case of unexpected turbulence. There are several exit doors on the plane. If we have to evacuate quickly, go to the nearest exit door. Look around you now, because the nearest door might be behind you. In case of loss of power, a strip of lights on the floor will illuminate the way to the door. If case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the overhead compartments. Firmly pull down to start the flow of oxygen, put the strap over your head, tighten the straps, and breathe normally. The bag may not inflate, even if the oxygen is flowing properly. If you are traveling with someone who cannot put the oxygen mask on themselves, put yours on first, and then help them. Since we are flying over the ocean, there are life vests under your seat. Remove them, pull the straps around you and fasten the belt, gently pull until it fits. Do not inflate the vest until you are about to exit the plane. To do that, pull down on one side strap, and if more flotation is needed, pull down on the other side strap. You can always inflate it by blowing into the tube located up by your shoulder if necessary. People seated in the rows by the door need to be mentally and physically able to open the door in case of an emergency, and if they are not able to do that, they should ask to be relocated. For more information about this, please consult the card in the seat pocket ahead of you.

Whew! That’s a lot to remember. Some people seem to listen intently; others don’t seem to be paying attention at all. With all the noise and bustle, sometimes it’s hard to pay really close attention. I’ve been fortunate to be able to fly enough that I think I have it all down pretty well now, but sometimes I wonder, if I really had to do this, and do it quickly, and my life depended on it, would I be able to do it as efficiently as would be necessary? How differently would we all listen if the safety presentation was happening when we knew the plane was about to lose cabin pressure and crash land in the ocean?

Moses had made an impressive departure from Egypt. He had led his people out of slavery there, and you would have thought they would have been grateful, but they whined and complained, and I suppose that’s because they were scared. God had given preparation for their departure to Moses, but there wasn’t total trust in God’s plan, and some people even wanted to go back to Egypt. The people were focused on their fear. What would they eat? How would they get water out there in the desert? When were they ever going to find home? What they lost sight of was that God was providing for them on a daily basis. One day at a time they received food. Rocks opened up to gush water when they needed it. And best of all, God was with them on each step of the journey.

In those days, people believed that if you actually saw God face to face, you could die. It was too intense. But Moses got to meet with God, and the people were happy to let him do it for them. He went up on the mountain, and when he came down, he had the ten commandments in his hand. God was giving them instructions, not for departure this time, but for life. And in a way, isn’t that what the instructions for departure on a plane are all about? We might encounter turbulence, we might encounter something even worse, but there are some rules to live by in case we do that may enable you to survive it, and come out of a tough situation alive.

So Moses came down from his meeting with God, carrying these instructions. What he didn’t know was that his face was absolutely aglow. The people were afraid to come near him. The shine on his face was the glory of God, now being reflected from Moses and his close encounter with the Holy One. Moses told the people what God had said, and then he had to put a veil on his face to keep the people from being overwhelmed by that light that shines forth, illuminating all around it, including us.

Our next scripture passage occurred centuries later. Jesus has been engaged in active ministry. He has healed a lot of people, preached a number of wonderful sermons, and attracted a lot of followers. He has also made a number of people very, very mad. He has been telling his disciples that he will have to suffer and die, but they don’t really believe him. That’s not what the long awaited Messiah is supposed to do. About 8 days after trying to tell them, he takes three of his closest companions, Peter, James, and John, with him up a mountain to pray. And while they were there, his face was changed and even his clothes became dazzling white. And suddenly, out of the distant past, the long-dead Moses and Elijah are there, talking with him. Moses, of course, represents the bringing of God’s law to the people, and Elijah is the famous prophet who was expected to return before the coming of the Messiah. They were talking to Jesus about his “departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. “ Perhaps they were giving him that talk – here is what is going to happen. Here is how you will deal with it. Here is how things can be made to work so that there is a positive outcome. Only this safety talk, this preparation for departure, is occurring as the plane is already on its way into the ocean, and you know the stakes are high, and the preparation for this departure is intense and requires absolute focus.

And Peter, James and John are weighed down with sleep! These guys always seem to be falling asleep at the very worst times. We will watch them do it again when Jesus is praying for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately before his arrest and crucifixion. It’s like a stress induced narcolepsy. But they aren’t all the way asleep, and they see the glory, the shining, around Jesus, and who it is that is with him. Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving Jesus, we are told, Peter says to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” And then there is the narrator’s commentary. “He did not know what he was saying.” Indeed he didn’t. Can you imagine what he must have sounded like? Jesus has just been given the most important preparation for departure that anyone will probably ever have, and they have missed the whole point. Jesus understands he is on his way to the cross and to death, and Peter is talking about setting up shelter that would keep them on the mountain.

But a cloud overshadows them, and they are terrified. The presence of God seems to evoke terror for many people. It is so intense. And a voice came from that cloud saying “This is my Son, my Chosen.” That’s pretty much what God said at the baptism of Jesus. But now one more sentence is added. “Listen to him!” In other words, quit babbling about what you think should happen, since you have no clue what is going on, and listen to the one who does. The men were struck silent, and “in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” That voice must have been pretty impressive, because wouldn’t you want to just run down that mountain and tell everyone what you had seen if you had been in the presence of the long dead heroes of the faith, and the one who has been tagged as the long awaited Messiah? Still, the disciples really don’t get what the point of all this is about.

But imagine what it must have been like for Jesus. This plane is going down. Here are your instructions. It’s not going to be pretty. In fact, it’s going to get very, very ugly. You need to hold on tight and follow the instructions to make it all come out right.

And so down the mountain they go, and right away they are confronted by t a man who is so distressed. His only child has convulsions. It seems like he could die. The disciples who remained down below tried to make him well, but they couldn’t do it. Can Jesus help? Perhaps now that we know what state he himself was in, we can better understand the frustration in what he said. “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” After all that Jesus has said and done, people still don’t get it, and now he is going to have to go to the most extraordinary lengths to show them. He will have to go all the way to the cross to help them understand the depths of God’s love for them. And so in the midst of his own fear and anguish about what is about to happen to him, Jesus takes the time to heal the boy, and we are told that “all were astounded a the greatness of God.”

God gives us instructions for life. We aren’t promised a smooth ride. We will encounter turbulence. There will be times when it seems the power has gone off and we can’t find our way to the exit door. But we are reminded that if we trust God and listen for what God is telling us, we will find that we have been given what we need to see it through and to come out of it all with the best possible outcome. The preparation is being given. All we have to do is listen as if our lives depended upon it. Amen

Preparing for Departure


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