Like Jesus, we are more than we appear on the surface …
we have more depth, more insight, more grace, more love, more forgiveness,
more hope, more power, more integrity, more kindness, more holiness,
more goodness than we can possibly show at any one moment in our lives.
Today’s Bible reading is the Gospel assigned to Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday between Epiphany and Lent. Transfiguration is a word you don’t hear much except in this context, so while I read from Mark 9:1-10, consider how you would define it.
1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
On any given Sunday morning here in this sanctuary, when the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky, the Choir, Molly and I experience a spectacle of sorts that is – well, for lack of a better word – otherworldly. On any given Sunday morning, sometime between 9 and 11, the sun begins its journey in our sanctuary, shining through that big window with the cross, starting near the pews on the middle right and slowly moving left across your faces. And even though most of you have experienced what I’m talking about, I’m not sure you’ve shared our experience – because on most Sundays we sit up here and witness with our own eyes what happens to you. Now, your responses are completely understandable. Many try to shield their eyes from its light; it’s just too much to take. Some bow their heads; others come prepared and put on sunglasses during those few minutes. And others, so I’ve heard, actually choose to sit in the pews on the far right to avoid the discomfort altogether. Some cringe; some try to slide out of its rays, if there’s room in their pew. (One bit of advice – if you’re new here and are going to employ the sliding technique, move to your right … if you slide left, it’s just going to follow you.) And even though these responses are completely understandable, there’s one choice that always takes my breath away. Every so often, as the sun beams into our faith community, someone will gently close their eyes, raise their face to the sun, and serenely welcome the moment like a gift from heaven. Their face glows with a radiance that’s beyond words, and if they happen to be wearing white, the vision is … well, otherworldly. On Sunday’s such as that, I am more open to trust in the transfiguration story.
I have no idea what actual experience those disciples had with Jesus when they accompanied him as he withdrew from the rest and went into the mountains … what kind of experience that would suggest a vision of two other beings talking with Jesus … that would reveal their identity as the Law-giver, Moses, and the great Prophet, Elijah … that would cause the disciples to tell the story like they told it following Jesus’ death and apparent rising … that would become the source of a written Gospel story at the hand of someone known as Mark, a full generation later? I have no idea what actually happened. But I can imagine Jesus inviting these friends to come and experience what withdrawing into God’s presence feels like (I can hear him saying, “you want to know what I do when I slip away to deserted places to pray? Come with me.) … I can imagine his friends kneeling with Jesus in a small circle within the heavy mist of a high mountain, heads bowed in prayer … when the sun breaks through the fog, and they can feel its warmth on their necks, and risk tilting their heads and peaking to see what Jesus is doing … and with his eyes closed Jesus’ face lifting heavenward, welcoming the moment like a sacred gift from heaven … his face radiant, his off-white robe shining with a brightness no human could possibly create. And I can imagine the clouds descending as quickly as they opened up; until finally when the disciples squint hard and look around, there’s Jesus praying … only Jesus. I can imagine it because I’ve seen it here, on your faces.
Like so many other visions in our sacred writings, the transfiguration story can spark some outspoken reactions – those who dismiss it as pure fiction created by the early Christian movement to prove Jesus’ pedigree as God’s only Son; and others who defend it as factual truth experienced exactly as it was told and preserved in the Gospel by the Spirit’s inspiration. Either way, or any way in between, this story is about a vision; and visions, as elusive as they may be, always invite us to reflect on deeper spiritual truths.
For me, one of the truths of transfiguration is, that like Jesus, we are more than we appear on the surface … we have more depth, more insight, more grace, more love, more forgiveness, more hope, more power, more integrity, more kindness, more holiness, more goodness than we can possibly show at any one moment in our lives. But, all it takes is a ray of sunlight, at just the right time, in just the right place, and for a fleeting moment the fullness of your humanity and mine is revealed.
Of all the definitions we might apply to transfiguration, it does suggest “beyond” the “fixed form.” … seeing through the outward surface of a person (in this case) and experiencing with our eyes the essence of who that person is … to see what God sees … to appreciate what God knows about a person. But it’s more than just seeing … the vision invites us to trust in the sacredness within every person, including Jesus, and yourself … and it’s more than just trusting … the vision entices you to choose to plumb the depths of who you are, and live the life God sees in you.
It’s no mistake that every year the Transfiguration story comes right before Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. It’s a story that encourages us to take this 6-week journey toward Easter more seriously, because Lent is the perfect season for a little spiritual exploration, to prayerfully take an inventory of what “more” lives deep within you that is longing to catch a ray of sunlight and be revealed for you and for others to see. That ray of light does shine through our community of faith … more often than you might imagine … and revealing more than any of us can see on the surface. But in those moments, others do see it in you, and trust it, and will gratefully welcome it. And we hope that Lent will be that season of discovery for you and a blessing for us all.
Orleans United Church
February 15, 2015