Luke 9:28-36 – The setting for this passage: Jesus has given the disciples the power to heal diseases and have authority over demons; sent them out to preach and teach heal, all of which creates quite a buzz that perplexes Herod, who doesn’t know who is doing all these things but wants to find out. Then there’s the feeding of the 5,000, and Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection, saying pick up your cross and follow me……
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
Here we are again. Another month, February now, and today is the last Sunday in Epiphany – a season of light. It’s Transfiguration Sunday. Next week will be the first Sunday in Lent. But I want to talk a little about transfiguration. Jesus has gone up to pray in the mountains with Peter, James and John. And this THING happens.
Jesus is praying, Peter, James, and John are trying their best to stay awake but are only about halfway successful, and suddenly — this THING happens. Dazzling white light, and not only Jesus’ appearance and clothing change, but big dogs Moses and Elijah suddenly appear as well – talking shop about what’s about to go down in Jerusalem. Peter and James and John may have been not very alert at first, but all this gets their full attention. They are there and witnesses to this experience, even if they don’t understand it fully. It was a God thing. A holy moment. Holy ground. And as such, it is perfect. It defies all words. Absolutely nothing is needed. No applause, no explanations, no words – just a perfect moment that transcends and eclipses everything else.
So Peter says – Hey! This is great! Let’s build a house for each of you! Gotta love Peter – totally missing the point, as he does so frequently. He’s my favorite disciple, I guess because I can see so much of myself in him. He’s very human. But even his mood-breaking observation is sort of drowned out by a cloud of light enshrouding them and a disembodied voice saying “This is my Son , my Chosen– listen to him!”
Then – it’s gone as quickly as it came. The light fades, they’re alone again, and it’s like it never happened. Except, it HAD…
What do you do with that?
What’s it even mean?
Some would say Moses represents the LAW and Elijah the PROPHETS – the two sides of
Jewish scripture. Jesus had gone to the mountains to pray, after all, and God is revealed through encounters with scripture…the true nature of Jesus is revealed by this transfiguration. That’s what Transfiguration IS – it does not mean the same thing as the word transformation. Transformation implies a remaking of the nature of a person or object. Transfiguration implies a revelation of the true nature. Jesus is not transformed on the mountain that day. He doesn’t go up there like some sort of caterpillar, to wrap himself in a cocoon and emerge as a glorious butterfly, full of light and beauty. That is what happens at the Resurrection event, but not here, not today. Even though Peter and James and John were half asleep when it happened, there was never any doubt for any of them that it was Jesus there with them.
That said, while transfiguration is not the same thing as transformation, it can be transformative. Transfiguration happens all the time, in big ways and small ways, whenever something in us – or in something we see — reflects the glory of God. And those reflections can provide enough “light” so that transformation happens – to other people, to the world – it sets things in motion.
We’re made in God’s image. But we are not perfect and whole. We are like broken mirrors. There’s a huge broken mirror out in the dumpster on the parking lot right now that someone wanted to get rid of. Thank goodness our God doesn’t throw US away even though we are broken mirrors. That’s called grace. J Those broken piece still reflect and can be very bright. When a connection happens that brings out that kind of light, it’s a
kind of transfiguration. It’s bigger than us. It’s not of our own making, but it’s part of us. It’s God IN us, the good in each of us. When your child as a baby really and truly SEES you for the first time, or when he takes his first step, there’s a deep connection that flares, that exists, that sparks and ignites. When you watch the face of someone who is watching someone they love very much. When you look into the face and eyes of someone very old and see all the younger versions of themselves they have been. When you’re at summer church camp and feel the presence of God so strongly you think you’ll burst and all you can do is give yourself to God. If you’ve ever felt wonder an awe at watching wild geese fly over in a night sky, or witnessed the birth of kittens or watched a butterfly emerge from a cocoon, or been mesmerized by the glint of silver sunlight on the water of a cold lake on a fall day, or the shifting glow of embers as a log burns in a fireplace, or felt the rolling boom of thunder surround and shake you in a storm, smelled rain on hot, dry dirt, stared into the gray sky watching snowflakes float down from dizzying heights, or lost yourself and all track of time in a piece of music or a riveting story… when you watch your children or grandchildren sleeping, or meet the eyes of hungry person you’ve just served food to Under the Bridge.
I think those are transfigurational moments.
That’s what Lent is about, in a way. Between Transfiguration, when three apostles catch a glimpse of Christ, the unbroken mirror, in glory – Shine, Jesus, Shine – and Easter, when the whole community sees his resurrected glory, we get ready. We catch a glimpse of the nature of what is truly there, and what is yet to be.
Marshall Scott is an Episcopal priest in California, and he says it this way:
The discipline of Lent isn’t about reshaping us or transforming us into someone, something
different. It’s about buffing us, polishing us, so that the glory of Christ, already present in our lives,
is more clearly reflected in the world around us. We are called to reflect the presence of Christ within us. And we’re called to do that, not by becoming someone or something we are not already, but by allowing the light of Christ that shines on us to reflect from us out into a dark and weary world. Through this Lent, and through every day of our lives in Christ, let us pursue our own transfiguration, and in time the world will see us, literally, in a new light.
Thanks be to God.