Dinner in White

March 3, 2019

Dinner in White

Matthew 17:1-8

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be by themselves. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed - his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.  Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love, who brings me great joy. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

* * * * *

I recently learned of an extraordinary event that happens in cities all over the world. It’s known as Diner en Blanc – and it is, quite literally, dinner in white. On a designated evening, thousands of people come together – most of them strangers to each other – for a massive picnic. Groups of invitees are assigned a specific place to gather, and then escorted to the final – surprise – destination of the dinner. All these people, from all over the city, dressed in white,

carrying picnic baskets of champagne, elegant home-cooked food, glassware, white tablecloths, white flowers, and their own fold-up tables and chairs….[All] dressed elegantly in white from head to toe, with a dash of the spectacular – perhaps a boa… a top hat, a cane, angel wings, or white gloves.

One participant attends year after year in spite of serious illnesses and challenges.

I find it spiritually and emotionally and physically such a rejuvenating thing…  You really can’t describe the emotions and the feelings that are involved unless you’re here and feel them yourself.

When I heard it described I thought, it sounds like a city of angels. At least for a moment, everything is magical. Magical, and delicious, and full of joy.  Until…

 [A]t midnight, a trumpet sounds. The guests wrap up their tables, pack their items, and collectively leave. Four hours after everyone sat down to eat, there’s no trace of the evening. [i]                                                          

When I read the story of the Transfiguration again this year I found myself thinking about these dinners in white. It was probably Jesus’ dazzling white clothes that got me started – imagining what it would be like for hundreds and thousands of people to be dressed in that dazzling brightness. It got me to wonder about the feelings of the disciples – what they felt spiritually, emotionally, even physically - being there for such a moment in time. It made me wonder what it would be like to have the ordinary world transformed, right before your eyes… as if you find yourself suddenly in an alternative universe.

In that moment up on the mountain, the disciples share something beautiful, radiant, divine. They see Jesus differently. They see the world differently. Everything – even themselves, even each other – everything is different. At least for a moment. For that one radiant moment, everything changes.  

And it is glorious.  

It is as if, one scholar says, as if God pulls back the curtain, lifts the veil, “so that what is normally hidden – the action of God, the hidden ways of heaven – can be seen.” When the disciples see Jesus radiate light – his face shining, his clothes luminous - it isn’t that he is changing, it’s that the disciples can see what is already there, what was already true, what has always been true, before the beginning of time. They see.[ii]

The moment passes, and everything returns to normal. Jesus warns them not to tell anyone what just happened. And why would they? Nobody would believe them. They’ve just something nobody else would understand.  What everybody else sees about Jesus is completely different.

What everybody else sees is a compelling leader who is in the cross hairs of the religious authorities, because he is a threat. They see someone who is marked by the political authorities because of the crowds that are starting to assemble around him. They see someone who can’t possibly win this battle.

And they would be right. Because Jesus is on his way to the cross. Right before this magical moment of transformation, this glorious God-lit moment, this radiant, beautiful moment, Jesus warns them: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

By the time he reaches the cross, this moment must have seemed like a dream, a fantasy, really. The contrast could not be more stark. The events at the cross almost mock the radiance of that mountaintop glory.

On the mountaintop, “Jesus’ clothes shine with the glory of God.”  At the cross, “soldiers gamble over his garments….”

On the mountaintop, “Jesus is surrounded by Moses and Elijah.”  At the cross, he is between two criminals, “while the crowd stands around waiting to see ‘whether Elijah will come to save him.’”

On the mountaintop God declares, “This is my Son!” At the cross, Jesus is taunted by people mocking him, saying “He said he was God’s Son!”

On the mountaintop, the shining glory of Christ is radiant, and beautiful, and holy. No one can see God’s glory when Jesus is on the cross – just ugliness, and brutality, and death. 

Until the resurrection… when the women come to the tomb, and an angel appears to tell them that Jesus is risen.  The angel’s appearance is radiant; his clothes are dazzling white.

The glory of the God shines again.  

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when we wear the mark of the ashes, formed in the shape of a cross, the sign of repentance and death. We take up the cross and follow him. This is not to punish ourselves. This is not to denounce the pleasures in this world. This is not – profoundly not – to embrace pain or darkness or death as something we somehow deserve.  

The purpose of Lent is to empty ourselves of everything that hides the glory of God shining in us. It is to set aside all the distractions that keep us from seeing the glory of God all around us. It is to open ourselves to become transformed with the glory of God within us.

The Apostle Paul said this is what following Jesus is for:

So all of us… can see and reflect the glory of the Lord, as we are transformed to be more and more like Jesus… changed into his glorious image. [2 Cor. 3:18]

See and reflect the glory of the Lord

Be transformed to be more and more like Jesus.

Be changed into his glorious image.

A city of angels…

Over a century ago, a German Lutheran theologian wrote these words about the journey of faith…  

It is not at all a question of being better than you were before. The new life means that forces for life can now be seen within you, that something of God and of heaven, something holy, can grow in you. It means we can actually see that it is no longer the sinful desires that have power, but Christ’s resurrection, and his life, which leads you toward wholeness.[iii] 

I invite you to imagine the possibility, that something of God can be seen in you. Radiating from you. Shining within you. Dazzling!

Imagine the possibility that something holy can grow in you.  

Imagine the joy of Christ’s resurrection, his life, leading you toward wholeness.

This is what Lent is for.

Let the journey begin…

[i] Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering, [New York: Riverhead Books, 2018] 122-124.

[ii] Thomas G. Long, Matthew, [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], 192-3

[iii] Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Christ Rising, from the Plough daily devotional for February 28, 2019. https://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/easter-readings/christ-rising