It’s Transfiguration once again! As I say in the sermon below, I’m never sure what to make of Transfiguration. Pretty much the same text comes up each year–with just slight differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts. But this year, when we read from Luke, we have the option to continue reading once Jesus leaves the mountain. And that’s where the Transfiguration starts to make sense for me. It’s not about some other-worldly place, it’s about real life. The transfigured Jesus is the same Jesus who leaves the mountain and who meets us in our everyday lives.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Transfiguration is kind of a weird day. It’s always celebrated the final Sunday after Epiphany, the first Sunday before Lent begins. In one sense it’s the culmination of the season after Epiphany, we’re we’ve been experiencing who Jesus is, getting glimpses of the divine in water changed to wine, in sermons preached, and miraculous healings. Then suddenly, we don’t just get a glimpse, but we get Jesus’ divinity revealed in this blinding display on the mountain. I say it’s weird because I just can’t imagine it.
Transfiguration seems like a day that is just tailor made for shiny, happy people. In his transfiguration, it says that Jesus’ whole appearance changes. He becomes bright. And Moses, after speaking with God face to face, is shiny. He’s so shiny and sparkly, reflecting the glory of God, that the people can’t look at him. He needs to veil his face because he has become so amazingly changed.
Jesus on the mountaintop must be even more bright, because he’s not just reflecting God’s glory, he is it. It is shining forth from him, revealing what has been there all along, but now without hiding it. I can’t really imagine it, but it must have been like staring right into the sun. Blinding in its brightness.
And often, I find Transfiguration difficult, because I want to experience that. I want to see God in all God’s glory. I want to shine from experiencing that brightness. I want to be one of the shiny, happy people. Isn’t that what we all want? At least in some form or another? We want to be happy, to be carefree, to bask in God’s power and glory, to shine so brightly that others around us can’t help but stop and stare. Can’t help but be in awe of us, and our shiny happy lives. I want to experience that, but I don’t always feel like I do.
Sometimes I don’t feel shiny or happy. Sometimes I feel beaten down and frustrated at just how broken the world is. At the seemingly endless hate, prejudice, and pain that is experienced. Just this past week, our brothers and sisters in the Methodist church voted not to allow LGBT persons to get married or be pastors in their churches. Lest we think we have the moral high ground, the Lutherans only changed our position on this ten years ago, and there is still so much work to be done before we have true inclusion. That’s just one example from the news this week that makes me feel less than shiny and happy. As you know, there are countless others.
But sometimes we want that shiny happy life so badly, that we pretend we have it even when it isn’t true. We put on the masks of shiny happy people. We act the part—either because it’s what we want others to see, or because we think it’s the right thing to do. We think that it’s somehow unfaithful to not always be shiny or happy. We think that if we let down that façade, if we admit to feelings of frustration and loneliness and pain, it means we don’t have enough hope or trust in God.
Transfiguration is so shiny and happy it can make us want to shore up those façades, just in case we aren’t feeling that shiny ourselves. Transfiguration is that way until, of course, Jesus comes down the mountain. Our shiny, happy Jesus comes down the mountain and meets the suffering world once again.
I always wonder what the Transfiguration must have been like for those left at the base of the mountain. Did Jesus’ light cast even a single beam down to those who waited in the dark? Did the crowd glimpse that ominous cloud that descended over Peter, James, and John? Did they hear even a rumble—distant like thunder—when God spoke to the disciples about listening to Jesus? We don’t know. We’ll never know.
We do know that Jesus took three disciples—and only three—up the mountain to experience glory of God. And the remaining nine spent the night in anxious futility, trying in vain to do their Master’s good work. Presented with suffering and need and being unable to do anything to make it stop.
But the Transfiguration doesn’t stop on the mountain. The Transfiguration isn’t just about shining, dazzling light. Transfiguration continues down in the valleys of real suffering and pain. Because we don’t just get to see Jesus for who he really is when everything is sunny and bright. We get to see Jesus for who he really is in the deepest moments of desperation.
“Look at my son,” this desperate father cries. “Look at him.” His only child is seized by a spirit, he shakes and foams at the mouth, he yells out. Today, we might recognize this condition as epilepsy. All this father knew is that his only child was suffering. He held his whole world in his arms, and implored Jesus to look and see. And Jesus does.
In the moments on the mountain, Peter, James, and John get to see Jesus for who he is. But Jesus is also revealed here in the valley. Jesus is revealed as a God who sees. As a God who cares enough to look at us. To see us. To see our needs. To see our suffering and pain, even if we try to hide it. To see our hopes and dreams and fears.
Jesus is revealed as a God who changes us. He casts out the demon and heals the boy. He gives the disciples a mission and a purpose. Jesus tells us that God has hopes and dreams for this world and Jesus puts those hopes and dreams in motion. He lifts up the lowly, he embraces the outcast, he feeds the hungry crowds.
Jesus is revealed as a God who is not afraid of suffering, but instead enters into it with us. A God who comes down off the mountain to meet us where we are, even if that place is scary and full of pain. Jesus never leaves us in that place alone. Because Jesus is revealed as God of transfiguration. A God of transformation. A God of resurrection.
And we are desperately in need of it. Our world is desperately in need of it. When we encounter God, we are changed. We are made different. Sometimes that encounter happens on the mountaintop where things are shiny and happy. There’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes that encounter happens in the valley, where our lives are scary and unsure. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
Wherever it happens, when we encounter God, we are changed. We might not glow like Moses, but we too reflect the glory of God. It might make some people uncomfortable. Sometimes people aren’t comfortable encountering God’s expansive, boundary-crossing love. Sometimes people aren’t comfortable with how God changes us. With who God pushes us to be, or with whom God sends us to embrace.
It might make us want to hide that light, to dim God’s love reflected in our lives. Let’s not do that. Let’s let that light shine. Because God is with us in every situation. God is with us on the mountaintops and in the valleys of our lives. Let’s bring that shiny, brilliant love of God to all that we do, letting it shine forth in our lives and into the world. Amen.