Where were you in the summer of ’77?
I had graduated high school and was working as a bus boy at Gifford’s Ice Cream Parlor in Silver Spring, Maryland. I was about to start my freshman year at the University of Maryland.
But for a lot of New Yorkers, I know, it was a summer of our discontent, and even fear. Son of Sam was terrifying the city, making headlines week after week, casting a shadow over everything. Then came an event that seemed to crystalize everybody’s anxiety. On July 13th, at 8:40 pm, a lightning bolt struck a powerline suspended over the Hudson River. Within an hour, New York was plunged into darkness.
Subways stopped in their tracks underground. People had to grope their way through the dark, into the tunnels and up to the street. Traffic lights stopped working, causing chaos. Street lamps went dark.
New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, prevailed. Ordinary people stepped into the streets to direct traffic. Bartenders lit candles and offered midnight cocktails. Hospitals cranked up emergency generators.
But there were also looters, and fires, and confusion, and chaos. No one was sure what had caused it, or when it would end. The next morning, countless New Yorkers had to walk to work—photographers captured armies of people marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a full 24 hours before power was finally restored.
The city was reminded how much we take for granted—and how much we all need something fundamental to our survival.
It is light.
This Sunday’s scripture is about many things—Christ’s divinity, God’s power, the apostles’ dread, the revelation of something mysterious and overwhelming, the Transfiguration of the Lord.
But it is also about the power of light.
The light that is Christ.
We see that played out year after year during the Easter vigil, as on one dark night a single flame spreads and illuminates this entire church.
We see it at every baptism, when the newly baptized is given a flickering candle with the words, “Receive the light of Christ.”
And we see it in this Gospel, with a radiance of light that leaves the apostles overwhlemed. They hear the voice of God and fall to the ground in fear.
But then they hear another voice: the voice of God’s son.
God told the apostles to listen to him. What does Jesus say?
His first words to the apostles in this passage are words that echo throughout the scriptures—words that are part of his message to the world.
These are words that can allow us to be “transfigured,” to be changed.
“Rise and do not be afraid.”
Rise. Here is hope.
Rise. Here is salvation.
Rise. Here is love.
We just heard these words from Peter’s letter:
“We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Christ is the the morning star, the lamp in a dark place, the beacon who shines forth from the mountaintop.
In a world of blackouts and power failures, here is the light with a power that never fails.
Rise and do not be afraid.
How we need that message today!
To a broken world overcome by fear…rise and do not be afraid.
To those living with anxiety or dread…feeling powerless or hopeless…rise and do not be afraid.
Do not cower in fear.
Look, instead, to the light.
Last Wednesday, in his Angelus address, Pope Francis reminded us that Christians are children of light.
“They do not believe in the darkness,” he said, “but in the light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but they want to resurrect; they are not bent over by evil, because they always confide in the infinite possibilities of good.“
He went on: “And this is our Christian hope. The light of Jesus, the salvation that brings us Jesus with his light that saves us from the darkness.”
We all know that blackout 40 years ago wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the last. Many of you remember that we had another big one in 2003 that knocked out power on much of the East Coast.
But if history teaches us anything, it is that there will always be times when we lose power. There are days when we will feel powerless. There will be moments when we are overcome by fear of what we do not know and cannot control or comprehend.
When those moments come, we need to remember this moment: the Transfiguration. Do not look down in dread.
Instead, look up, to the mountaintop.
Look up, to the tabernacle.
Look up, as we will in just a few moments, to the elevated presence of Christ in a sliver of bread.
Look up to the light that is our hope.
Rise, and do not be afraid.