Mark 9: 2-9
I keep wondering what a Transfiguration card from Hallmark would be like…You go for a walk with Jesus and–you get a light show! Happy Transfiguration…You think you know someone and then–he’s chatting it up with dead prophets…Whatever you do on the mountain—don’t start babbling about huts. Have a great and babble-free Transfiguration…Maybe Hallmark does make these. I didn’t look.
But I’ve been wondering. Mostly because Transfiguration Sunday has always seemed like a weird appendage to me in our liturgical year. Protestants celebrate it here, on the last Sunday before Lent begins; Roman Catholics celebrate it on the 2nd Sunday of Lent; and some churches, like the Eastern Orthodox celebrate it on August 6th. So, within the Christian family, it’s a wandering holy day. But even within our own part of the tradition, it seems we don’t always know what to do or say about this day. Maybe I was an especially bad listener growing up, but I don’t recall hearing a single sermon on the Transfiguration until I was in college. A few years ago when I was editing a church newsletter and I asked one of the staff members to write something on the Transfiguration, she said with a certain amount of surprise that she had never been asked to write or talk about it – even in seminary.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s the sheer outlandishness of the vision that stumps us and calls us up short. Like when your favorite uncle or teacher falls in love and acts like it, silly and happy and completely undignified – and you try to just forget it later on so things can go back to normal. Or when you have one of those moments of such beauty and grace – witnessing the birth of a baby, being present at the death of a loved one, experiencing a profound and wordless moment with God at the Grand Canyon – that it stands out forever as “that time when,” special but just a bit beyond words. Wonderful but hard to categorize or explain or process.
Why does Jesus take disciples – these disciples – up the mountain to witness this spectacular stand-out moment? What does he want them to do or remember about it? Why is this an important moment for them to remember before they head in the direction of Jerusalem? Why is it important for us to remember before Lent begins?
I’ve started to recognize that Transfiguration Sunday is a particularly apt story and vision for us here at Wesley. As we round this corner into Lent, we start on a hike up the mountain with Jesus and a handful of disciples. After our Lenten journey we will walk up a mountain on Easter morning to meet the risen Christ in a sunrise worship service. Like bookends on this long, reflective season ahead, these two trips up the mountain frame the season for us. And I suspect that Jesus had something like this in mind for those disciples, too.
A lot transpires between this mountain and the next one. Spring break is in two weeks. Exams and midterms and Capstone projects are ahead. Relationships are happening…or not. In the midst of all this we will be “giving up” or “taking on” or just trying to remember that Lent is happening, too. Just trying to remember that, beneath all the fuss and frenzy, God is. Beneath the disguises and distractions God is waiting for us to notice.
A lot transpires between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. On this mountain Peter, James, and John don’t know what to make of this vision. Jesus, dazzlingly brilliant and suddenly talking with Moses and Elijah. While they are still trying to take in the scene God’s voice resounds: Listen to him. Listen. On Easter morning, Mary stands at the edge of an empty tomb, frantically grilling the man she thinks is a gardener. Until he says her name. And then her vision clears and she can see that it’s Jesus.
When a lot is going on, it’s easy to lose track of the details, or focus on the wrong ones. When a lot is going on and the journey is long, it’s easy to lose your way or to head off in the wrong direction when you hit the desert. Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is the vision you have of where you are headed. Jesus knew where he was headed and he gave the disciples a vision to keep them going. It’s our vision, too, here at the cusp of Lent, here on this mountain many weeks away from the next mountain.
“Transfigure” means “to change the appearance or shape of” but I wonder if Jesus really changed form. It’s obvious that the disciples saw him differently but we know the disciples weren’t always quick on the uptake, right? How many times does Jesus have to repeat himself or remind the disciples of their mission, only to have them fight over who gets to sit at his right hand? It seems more likely that in that moment on the mountain the disciples finally saw who was there all along. The true Light of God. Unveiled. Revealed. Discovered right there in the midst of a hike up the mountain.
God is waiting for us to notice the sights and sounds all around us. God is ready to reveal more to us. Right here in the middle of a crazy semester or week. In the rush of assignments and deadlines and missed opportunities. Woven into the fabric of each ordinary day and all of our imperfect relationships. Exactly where you are looking (or trying not to look) right now – God is ready to blow your mind with the shape and light and color and timing of how God shows up.
That’s what this season ahead is for. This vision is bread for the journey. It’s a long, dusty road. A lot is going on and a lot will transpire between here and there. At the beginning of the Lenten journey we are reminded that we’ll become dust itself by the very end of all our journeys. In the meantime, our task is to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open – to catch glimpses of the unexpected. To sit with the strange and surreal visions of God even when you can’t describe the picture. To bathe in the light, especially when there are no words. To be ready to see who God really is and not just who we want God to be.
Because who we want God to be – the way we would design God – is never big enough. The scope of our vision is limited and scales grow so easily over our eyes. God knows this and loves us and gives us what we need: vision for the road ahead and the sound of our name when we lose sight again later on.
If Hallmark did make a Transfiguration card, maybe the best one would say something like this: Hope you really get to see Jesus today — Keep watching and he will be revealed. Happy Transfiguration.
Thanks be to God!
© 2012 Deborah E. Lewis