By chance, it was my good fortune to see on TV several years ago an interview with Arthur Rubinstein, the great pianist. He was asked about his concerts, his attitude toward his art, his work, the people before whom he performs. He said, “My first thought as I’m about to play is one of wonder that all these people have come to hear me — and have paid to hear me! But I realize that they are distracted, many of them, and perhaps worried or sad about something — so many things to be concerned about.
“And then I come out onto the stage, looking like an undertaker, and I stand before the big piano, which resembles a coffin. And I have but one thought: ‘I have to play with such love, with such joy, that I will transmit this deep emotion to them, and they will not be sad and distracted but will experience love and joy themselves.’”
By contrast with that interview, another one was reported in the New York Times not long after; it was of a female Italian movie director who said that, Yes, all her films do end in tragedy because that’s the way life always ends — in tragedy. Inevitable death and nothingness, she said, await us all.
I assume that the world to this artist appears to be a coffin. She believes that we can, like children at play, make believe for a while that it is a source of happiness, but eventually it claims us all for emptiness and annihilation.
In the exuberant passage from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy that we heard minutes ago, he tells Timothy and us that the gift of immortality — of happy, peaceful life that never ends — had been God’s plan before time began. Paul says it had never been realized before the life and death and resurrection of Jesus took place. The Good News, Paul calls it.
So, he cautions Timothy, don’t be confused or discouraged by temporary failure or even by inevitable death, because they cannot frustrate the power of God’s will to save us all for life.
The mystical event of the Transfiguration of Jesus is a dramatic expression of the early church’s belief that he was no ordinary human being. On the one hand he was the same as all of us in our basic humanity; on the other, he was different in his total unity with the God he called Father. The transfigured Jesus, described in such graphic and imaginary terms, was the sign of the destiny that awaits every person, because every person is loved unconditionally by the Creative Spirit that we call God.
Abraham — our Father in Faith, as we refer to him — in response to a fuzzy inner voice he believed came from God — obediently went to a strange, distant place to start a chain of events that the voice said would produce new life for all the people of the world.
How shall we regard this planet and our life on it? Is it a coffin that awaits our lifeless bodies, or is it our mother, giver of life and love and promises that will not be revoked? How shall the works that we do here end — in tragedy or in happiness?
We can’t hide our fundamental conviction in this matter: It shows itself beyond our control in our disposition, our attitudes, our conversation, our habits, our patterns of speech, our worries and concerns, our priorities.
The Good News is that, because of Jesus, we can always live life fully and to the best of our ability, knowing that it is perfect life that lies ahead!