Last Sunday at our monthly ‘Jazz on Hammers’, a gathering where there’s some light jazz, food and conversation, I offered a brief reflection after we (band) played ‘The Long and Winding Road’. This song was written by Paul McCartney at his Scottish home and was one of the last hits from The Beatles. He says it isn’t a song about any particular person or place but a song that captured the sadness in his being as he reflected on the break-up of this iconic band, as they fell apart. It speaks of a long road that winds ‘to your door’. I reflected on this road as the journey we all take, the journey of life and being in this world. We wander, journey, travel and make our way. The road twists and turns, sometimes through harsh and difficult terrain and sometimes through places of wonder, joy and peace. There are many side paths, tracks and appealing ways that lead us somewhere else, into other places of life. On some of these we find ourselves lost and alone. Other paths look and feel good – at least for a time. We discover that they don’t lead anywhere – well nowhere we really want to go. We inevitably have to wind our way back to the ‘long and winding road,’ to follow to where it leads.
On this journey, this long and winding road, there are strong and windy nights that batter us and tire us in our being. We feel life crowding in, suffocating us with expectation, demand and emotional overload. We feel the weariness in our being. We feel tiredness in our bodies as we tire from the journey and the physical toll exerted on us. We long for refreshment, renewal and hope. We long for respite and peace along the way.
I remember climbing a hill. It was reasonably high and had a path and stairs to the summit. The path began gently, a slight sloping path that was easy to walk. It quickly changed and became quite steep and the way was harder. The stress and strain and my legs began to burn; the humidity began to sap energy and I was thirsty. Up ahead was I noticed a seat, a stop along the way and made my way to it. I didn’t sit but stopped, looked around and noticed the beauty of the scene before me, one that was harder to appreciate when pushing along and watching the path. I took a drink and breathed in for a few minutes. I was filled with wonder as I looked out across the bay and realised I was only half way – what would the view from the summit be like??? The respite, the renewal, the breath and drink, the view and reminder of the journey I was on and where I hoped it might lead were enough to enable me to continue the journey. My legs began to ache again and the humidity was overwhelming but there was a vision, a hope about where I was going and the rest and respite had been enough to reinvigorate me in the journey. The summit was more than I expected. On the way up, I only saw out in one direction, a widish vista but nothing like the 360-degree view from the top – stunning!!
At various points along the way of life, I need to stop, to breathe, to drink in the ‘water of life’ that refreshes my whole being – body, mind and spirit. I need to be reminded of who I am and what this life of being human is about. I need a renewed vision and hope for the journey because I am tired, lost, overwhelmed, distracted or running in circles. Sometimes life becomes the treadmill I find myself on – the faster I walk or run, the faster the treadmill goes and I only wear myself out, whilst finding myself in the same place.
I need to remember where the long and winding road is heading; what might the ‘doorway’ where it leads represent? What is the place, the experience, the destination of life really about? Where do I really expect my journey through this life to end up? What are my hopes and dreams, my deepest yearning for myself, those around me, this world? What are the possibilities? Is my vision, my belief or faith or hope, big enough, broad enough, generous enough?
In Matthew’s story of Jesus, we read a story that is in the middle (Matthew 17:1-9). It comes at a time when there is weariness in the being of Jesus – teaching, healing, confronting the powers of his world and their opposition, lifting up the weak and helpless, the powerless and oppressed. The more he goes forward, the more there is to do. The crowds gather in and surround him, make demands of him and expect much more of him. He teaches and preaches, nurtures and guides but do people get it? Is he making headway? Is it all working and where to next? Up ahead in the unknown future there is the inevitable clash between the Reign of God with its justice and inclusive love, over and against the powers of the world, religious and political leaders who felt threatened and were readying for the final confrontation. Jesus was in the middle and would be hung on a cross – was that the ‘door’ that his long and winding road led to? How does one journey forward facing that inevitable painful conclusion? How does one engage in living with the knowledge that death is staring you in the face?
Matthew (in line with Mark and Luke) tell a story that is puzzling and confusing. It seems other-worldly and strange. Jesus took three disciples (Peter, James and John) up a mountain and there he was ‘transfigured,’ metamorphosed and glowed white. In what Matthew calls a vision, he was joined by Moses (the great Jewish deliverer and lawgiver) and Elijah (a great Jewish prophet). They talked. Peter eventually asks if he should build shelters for everyone for the night – Peter wants to contain and hold onto this experience. Whilst he was speaking a cloud enveloped them and a voice declared: ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!’
Peter, James and John were mystified, afraid and confused. They fell on their knees, overwhelmed by the holiness and presence of God in this place. The vision ceased and Jesus touched them, inviting them to stand. They were going back down the hill.
As we read this strange story, do we recognise how the vision and experience of this holiness was both terrifying and renewing? I can only imagine that at this point on Jesus’ journey there was a sense of renewal, affirmation and energising – ‘you are my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased…’ This is a vision of resurrection and points beyond the pain and struggle of the winding road ahead to the door into the reality beyond. Resurrection is transformation and speaks into something new that emanates from beyond the physical, material world. It is more than resuscitation or lingering as spirit but a new creation beyond time and space in the mind-boggling realm of the eternal.
This is a sustaining vision for Jesus and the disciples that is bigger than their confused or weary expectations can imagine. It is affirmation that God is in this and that the Love at the centre of all things holds them in radical grace and life. Whatever happens on the journey, there is a destination that is open, inviting, loving, inclusive, gracious, hopeful and joy-filled! This place is the heart of God, that holds everything in an eternal presence that breaks into our lives in simple and profound wonder and invites us onwards in grace.