Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – February 11, 2018
“…he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” In the words of one of the Superbowl commercials, how do we know it’s not a Tide ad?! Yes, that’s how you know this is a divine event, because the clothes are truly clean! Just kidding!
Every year we hear about this beautifully glorious event on the mountainside. Jesus, Peter, James, and John go up the mountain and while they are there, Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. They know him as their master and teacher, but all of a sudden he is dazzling and shining, speaking with Moses and Elijah. And then there’s this cloud that envelops them – a sign of God’s presence. What’s more, this cloud tells the disciples who Jesus is – God’s own Son, to whom they should listen. And the first thing Jesus says to them – the first thing they are to listen to and obey – is to tell no one about the amazing thing they’ve just experienced.
This story is brief, but there’s so much rich symbolism and ties with the Hebrew Scriptures, we could spend a whole Bible study on just that. But there are other things worth noting. The disciples are terrified and yet Peter remarks, “it is good for us to be here.” He suggests making dwelling places so that they can stay there. They are shaken to their core and yet, somehow, deep within, they know it is good to be there. That it is good to be present in that moment, catching a glimpse of the glory of God, hearing the divine speak from within the cloud. It’s good to be there, but they cannot stay.
Mountaintop experiences are important. They point to God, can shape our faith, and give us direction. But we don’t live our lives going from one incredible faith experience to another, moment by moment. Even the saints and mystics who we associate with fantastic experiences of God did not experience these things continuously. They had moments of darkness and searching for God – dark nights of the soul as St. John of the Cross describes them. Even contemporary teachers of contemplative prayer urge people not to focus on “religious experiences,” but the importance of showing up, day after day, to spend time simply in the presence of God. Still, we are drawn to the shining, illuminating, glorious moments instead of the every day wanderings in the valley of life.
We are often filled with wonder and awe at mountaintop experiences – those moments God surprises us and takes our breath away. In those moments, as on the mountain with the disciples, there are no distractions to lure us away from God. We feel things are finally clear in those fleeting moments. And yet, even for the disciples, God’s revelation about who Jesus is comes in a cloud that “overshadows” them. This is the same as the Holy Spirit that overshadows Mary when she asks how she will give birth to the Son of the Most High. This tells us something about our encounters with God. They are so often outside of our control, and far greater than our knowledge and understanding. They are moving, sometimes scary, confusing, mysterious, and transcendent. We often need time to process and reflect on them. And still, we are told to listen, to move forward, to obey, and to follow. Because God knows the journey never ends at the mountaintop.
Before this, Jesus has already foretold his death and resurrection. He could have been safe up on the mountain, but instead he descends into need, healings, heartbreak, suffering, and, finally, death for our sake. Jesus comes down off of the mountain, out of the glory and into the valley of the shadow of death. He could have stayed there, but he comes down to continue moving resolutely toward the cross. He comes down, not only into our humanity in the incarnation, but from the glory of the mountain peak to be united with us in life and in death. That is truly a moment of wonder and awe – that the Savior of the world once again turns aside from glory and humbles himself to the point of death.
I think that’s why the Transfiguration comes at this point in the church year. It bridges Epiphany, the season of light and seeing God made manifest in the world through Jesus, and the season of Lent, of penitence, reflection, turning toward God. It reminds us that even as we traverse Lent and Holy Week and danger mounts for Jesus and the disciples, God’s glory continues to shine forth. It is ever present, no matter where we may find ourselves. The miracle of the Transfiguration is that it changed the disciples in ways they couldn’t even understand. It showed them who Jesus was not only in the moment or after the resurrection, but for all time. It meant they couldn’t keep living the same way after that experience. The Transfiguration tells us that Jesus was changed before the disciples’ eyes, but it also shows that we will be transformed through him. If Christ can be changed before our eyes in the dreariness of this world, surely he can transfigure and resurrect our lives, no matter what we’re up against. That is the promise we carry with us as we head into Lent and toward Good Friday. We may not know what it will look like, but we know that God’s goodness, forgiveness, and challenging love can transform us, too.
Who is watching the Olympics? Who is tearing up at all of those backstories? Each of those athletes is seeking the glory of Olympic gold – of being the best in the world at their sport. However, they were not shaped by a series of amazing wins, but by the daily regimen and struggles that help them hone their craft.
Today, we are blessing icons that some of our members painted or wrote last summer and fall. They came out beautifully and I am incredibly proud to see them all here. But the folks who painted them can tell you that the icons did not start that way. Each artist began with a plain white wooden board. Slowly, with nerves, mistakes, confusion, and trepidation, they painted, brushstroke by brushstroke, probably cursing me a little bit under their breath. But then they suddenly realized that they had finished, and not just finished, but they themselves had learned and changed a little along the way. We, too, are like those icons, transfigured bit by bit through the mundane, through the ups and downs, the crosses and joys of our life. We are transformed day by day, radiating the light of Christ to those around us.
Jesus did not stay on the mountain. And neither can we. We will have crosses in our lives – health problems, financial or job problems, relationship struggles, the death of loved ones. Maybe you’re feeling the burden of some of those now. You are not alone. You have a community of fellow disciples walking with you. Remember, we have a God who walks with us not just on the mountain peaks, but in the valleys. And as he was transfigured, we, too, are being changed. Thanks be to God. Amen.