The Light that Transforms
Jesus reveals his divine light. A sign of his true nature and an encouragement for us to reveal our true nature, too. "God became human so that we might become divine." Iranaeus, 2 CE
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. The close of the variable season of ordinary time. A time that begins with light. A radiant light that draws people towards it. A light above the place of Jesus’ birth. A light that signifies the incarnation of Christ in the world – a cosmic event - shining in the darkness so that new people – people beyond the assumed people – would find their way to God.
On the last Sunday after the Epiphany we always hear another story of light the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. But this time it’s different. The light radiates outward from within Jesus. The light is not shown to everyone – but to the people Jesus keeps close. The disciples. And not even all the disciples. Just Peter, James and John.
And there is thought that goes into this event. There is planning. Six days of prayerful consideration, I think, before Jesus takes these friends apart from the rest. Takes them up to a specific, sacred and significant place – a high mountain – the mountain we heard about with Moses this light to them.
And there he transfigures – to encourage – I believe – their own – and our – transformation.
When I was kid – there was a commercial that always played when I was watching my after school shows – it was for Transformer action-figures. And every time I get to the Transfiguration – in my head – I hear – “Transformers! More than meets the eye.”
And I do think there is more than meets the eye here – which is why it’s such an extraordinary event.
The transfiguration – as an event – is strange, really. It’s odd. Its like the one time Jesus kind of does act like an action figure – a superhero. It’s the only time he shows forth divine power just for the sake of doing so.
You might counter by saying – what about healing miracles? Well, that’s for someone else – and it accomplishes something tangible – healing. Not to mention it encourages people to go and tell. It helps someone and its good PR.
Well what about walking on water? Well that has a purpose – he has to get to the other shore. It takes him from point A to point B in the midst of the storm. And it doesn’t seem like any thought goes into it, he does it as a matter of course. He doesn’t go out of his way to show them this.
What about loaves and fishes? This is my real Protestant side comes out – I don’t read that as a miracle – so much as the miracle of generosity – and having more than enough. The boy sharing his loaves and fishes – just prompts everyone to do the same.
No – Transfiguration is unique in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke). John’s gospel is a whole different ball of wax. Not only does he shine forth with this blazing, blinding yet visible radiance. He also has these cool wingmen – Elijah and Moses. Significant for a couple of reasons, one of which being because they represent the law and the prophets – the covenant with God, as it has been known, heretofore. traditions of covenant with God.
And finally what I wanted to focus on in this story – is the voice of God. This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.
Now I know you’re thinking, but Arianne, we already heard that. God said that in Jesus’ baptism. Yes, you are correct, but in that story there is no indication that anyone heard it. Except the reader. Whereas here, clearly they did. Because they fall on the ground terrified. I sure would.
So – why. Why does Jesus with such thoughtful intentionality manifest this divine showing?
I think that’s one reason Jesus just takes these three disciples up that mountain And another reason is because of what happened six days before. When a gospel starts with that – you have to figure out what happened six days before.
Peter’s confession – Caesarea Philippi – who do people say that I am? Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But who do YOU say that I am?
Peter – trusting his gut says – You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Blessed are you! Jesus exclaims – you got it! You see. You know! So Jesus goes on to tell them what that means – that he will go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious authorities and be killed – raised on the third day.
God forbid it – Peter responds. Not on my watch. And then the infamous – Get behind me Satan – You are a stumbling block to me, Jesus tells him. That had to hurt. Setting your mind on human things, and not divine. If you want to follow me – deny your self, pick up the cross and follow. You have to lose your life to gain it. (Matthew 16ff)
That’s a lot to take in all at once – don’t you think?
I believe Jesus realized that. It’s too much for Peter to take in – too many words. Jesus needed to pull the curtain back. Because that’s what will happen on the next mountain. At the crucifixion – the death of Jesus the veil is torn for a moment the holy city is seen.
Transfiguration isn’t for the sake of using a superpower – to be a divine superhero. It’s a gift for Peter, James and John so they can see things as they really are.
In the words of the poet, theologian – John O’Donohue – it is to show them that behind the façade of their life – something beautiful and good and eternal is happening.
When have you seen that? What events do you carry with you that remind me there is something eternal happening all the time?
I remember the first time I held my daughter. I remember being 15 and getting off a ski lift on top of a mountain in VT and being walloped with the awareness that I had one unique, life to live. I remember standing in the undercroft of St. Luke’s church for Christmas Café our second year – and seeing beloved community Sitting at the bedside of someone who is making the journey from this life to the next.
These moments when the veil is parted – the light is seen – when we connect with ultimate reality – all that there really is and ever will be. The divinity within our humanity – which we overlook only seeing the façade of our life.
When Peter and James and John are on the ground, covering their heads in fear – Jesus has compassion. With a touch on the arm – be raised, have courage, lets go. Let’s go back down into the world – knowing there is so much more than meets the eye.
Listen for the voice of God and you’ll see more and more moments of transfiguration. Look for the eternal reality of God and you’ll be more attentive to the voice of God in your life.
Knowing there is more than meets the eye. Amen.