This last week I had another oncology appointment in Colorado Springs and after it was over, we decided to go north to spend a few days with son Ian, daughter-in-law Mackenzie and 3½-year-old granddaughter Margot who live in Littleton. Ian had enrolled Margot in her first ever ski lessons so OMA decided to ski with Ian and Margot—I hadn’t skied in over 2 years and let me tell you it was fabulous!
I loved, loved being at the top of a mountain and looking all around at God’s amazing creation. It snowed, was overcast and cold, but I didn’t care! The view and experience was spectacular! From the top of Larkspur Bowl, I looked down and realized clouds were moving in; and pretty quickly, we were in the clouds! I even took a photo of it! In scripture, the cloud is associated with the awesome presence of God. The mountain, the clouds, the view revealed for me the glory of God as well as the presence of God. It was an overwhelming and emotional experience.
Once home, I delved into our passages and with all the mountain references, I couldn’t get ‘my photo’ — my experience — out of my mind. I kept seeing the scene over and over and being in awe of God’s glory.
I hope each one of us can recall mountaintop experiences in our own lives -- moments, no matter where you are (it doesn’t have to be on a literal mountain) when you are very much aware of God’s presence and the glory of God that is revealed affects you. I think that is part of the reason why this story is read, told and discussed every year in our churches. That part of the story is something we can related to… but let’s also be honest, this story is also other-worldly!
We have been baptized but the heavens don’t literally open, a dove descend, and the voice of God audibly speak, confirming our identity -- that happened when Jesus was baptized. And we have seen God’s glory but not like this! It’s extraordinary! We are to be in awe of this mystery, of this power. In the transfiguration, heaven again confirms Jesus is the ONE! The Chosen. God’s son.
But as I continued to reflect, I kept pondering that question: WHY IS IT THAT THIS STORY IS TOLD EVERY YEAR? Why is it a well-known story in the life of Jesus? What are the reasons for this story being in all 3 synoptic Gospels and being the focus annually on the Sunday before each season of Lent? Well, I have a few thoughts.
This story of the transfiguration is returned to each year because it means something special. It does provide insight into who Jesus is and, I think, who we are as disciples.
Let me explain. First, as I already mentioned, I think we all have mountaintop experiences. Times in our lives when, like Peter, James and John, amazing things happen and the memories never leave us because we are changed as a result…we are transformed.
But, did you notice what happens immediately after Jesus’ is transfigured? After hearing God’s voice speak over him, He and the three disciples go down off that mountain, back into the community and their lives and what do they do?
Crowds met him so Jesus immediately goes back to his ministry of healing! Once again, he defeats evil (the demons) and heals, restoring a young boy to his father. Jesus and the three don’t dwell in all that glory for long -- they are transformed so the world can be transformed through them.
That’s true for us too, I think. When we come down off our mountain, we might be surprised to find ourselves right back in our communities and lives…doing the work that we were doing before our great experience on the mountain, seeing all of God’s glory shining forth.
It also seems that often there is not much time to process/ponder the experience before life continues on. Our encounter might not seem to immediately change us — but think about it. There is no way the Transfiguration experience didn’t affect the three disciples, even if they didn’t talk about it right away -- they carried it with them and that had to inform how they engaged the world. They had seen Jesus radiate the glory of God, speak with Moses an Elijah, and be confirmed once again by the voice of God. Eventually, of course, they did tell the world all about their experience and the good news spread.
I think that can be true for us too! We come down, resume our work and lives, and after some time, share our experience and come to understand it’s significance as GOOD NEWS.
I also think that this story is important because it teaches us something about prayer. For Luke, this event happened when Jesus and the three went off to pray. Jesus wants to be with the One who has sent him. And in the depths of prayer, the light of life shines forth from Jesus. God’s glory is revealed in Jesus! This story reminds us that we too are invited to be with the One who has created us, called us, sent us — who has spoken over us. What a wonderful thing it is to spend time with God. Like Jesus, like Moses -- we too can radiate with THE light!
There is also the topic of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus’ discussion. Verse 31 simply says, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The better translation is EXODUS, not departure. They were talking of Jesus’ exodus! Like Moses before him, Jesus is given an experience of God and God’s majesty. Like Moses, in spite of being chosen, he is not granted easy passage.
The word exodus reminds us of plagues, blood, the death of first-born sons, and the oppressive power of the Egyptians right? This connection reminds us that God will deliver God’s people from slavery as often as God must do it. But an exodus from under the power of any oppressor has a cost. Verse 51 tells us that Jesus must “set his face like a flint” to get to Jerusalem. The transfiguration including the discussion the three had was important for Jesus’ as he headed to Jerusalem and his death.
A friend of mine, pastor Dawn, told me this week that about six years ago, she finally got it. It being the Transfiguration. I, of course, had to ask…What exactly did you get?
She replied “Once we empty ourselves of all that drives us, Christ truly and fully becomes one with us, and we are transformed. As his transfiguration carried him through the evil, hatred, and crucifixion, our living the Christ within us carries us through our sorrows and rejections.” I thought that was a wonderful connection -- our transformation carries us through the difficulties of life too.
Yes, it does! Being transformed into a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean we will be spared the pain, suffering, and sorrows of life. But it does mean that we will be carried through them. On that mountain, the glory of God was visible and transformed Jesus, the voice of God spoke “This is my son, my chosen, listen to him” and yet, for many observers it doesn’t seem like that made much of a difference in the lives of Jesus or the disciples. He was killed in Jerusalem! But we know better.
The transformation was a gift in which they, in which we, can live life with all the joys and heartaches, knowing that God has spoken over us and his glory will carry us through.
Finally, I think this is an important story for us because of the nine who were not on that mountain that day. Although Peter, James, and John have this awe-some experience, the other nine follow Jesus on his exodus journey without that experience. We can identify with that right? We are probably more like the nine who go along anyway, without the life-altering, glory-seeing encounter, except that now the experience of hope beyond the difficulties of our journeys is also given to us.
So Why do we tell this story each year? Because, even if we don’t fully understand it, it gives us insight into Jesus and us as disciples!