The season of Epiphany in the church is book-marked by two stories, each and every year. It begins with the story of the Baptism of Jesus. In that story, God’s booming voice proclaims, (depending upon the Gospel either for either Jesus alone, or for all to hear) “This is my Son…”
The Season of Epiphany always ends with this story, of Jesus Transfigured on the Mountain, and the second iteration of God’s proclamation, “This is my Son…”
In between the Baptism and the Transfiguration, the ministry of Jesus begins and the stories we hear bring into sharper focus what can be expected of him, and what will be required of the one whom God claims as his own.
The Transfiguration event is quite often a head scratcher for most folks. We’re not quite sure what to do with it.
We are as puzzled as anyone over what Moses and Elijah are meant to represent, what they may have discussed with Jesus, or what symbolic action this meeting might be meant to convey.
We join with Peter, James and John in fumbling and stumbling over what to make of it all, and just what to say or do in the moment.
Shall we “live in this moment?”
Do we build a shrine or a shelter to commemorate it? Or a shelter to remain upon the mountain for a time and avoid what Jesus has predicted will lie ahead in choosing to go to Jerusalem, and go the way of the Cross?
It can be a quite a conundrum for us. What do we make of this strange vision?
Perhaps, Vision is precisely the word and experience we are to take from this story; that it is a vision. It is a moment between baptism and what will lie ahead in which we get only a glimpse of something.
If that is the case, then I would submit that the Transfiguration is not so foreign to us after all.
You know this moment.
You have had this kind of moment.
If this is a vision granted, it is not so much something for us to “figure out” or explain as it is simply a “moment to remember.” It is a moment that will be looked back upon that provided something — a measure of hope, insight, or clarity for what was to come.
We all experience transfigurations, don’t we?
You have had a moment like this, or you will.
Transfigurations, this story tells us, are comprised of three distinct parts.
You see something that you have never seen until this moment.
You recognize something of the past in this moment that you realize will have implications for the future..
You feel a moment of fear that a word eventually addresses or dispels.
So, when is it that you have had a “Transfiguration” event happen to you?
If you are a parent or a grandparent I’ll bet it’s there tucked inside your memory, a Transfiguration of your child.
Maybe it was the moment when for the first time, on their own, they toddled into the bathroom and used the toilet without being prompted, coaxed, bribed or scolded.
It was a moment when you saw them as something they had never been before, and something that you longed for them to be, independent!
You recognized something of the past fading away. The day of no more diapers becomes a real possibility!
But, in that same realization you feel also a moment of fear.
They are growing up!
“I did it!” “I do it myself!” Is the word that comes to address the moment. It pulls us back to reality, and dispels a bit of the anxiety.
I think there is a transfiguration moment when a parent sees his daughter or son come down the stairs dressed up for a special event.
You see that she is not your little girl anymore. He is not just a little boy.
You recognize in her poise, or in his pose, in their appearance a bit of her mother perhaps, or you see your own father mirrored in the way he stands, or someone else from the family memory. At any rate their appearance is quite unlike anything you have ever seen in your child before.
There she is, transfigured before you. She is a young woman.
There he is, tall and dapper, and you recognize that he is no longer the child of playing with legos or in the backyard but a young man.
You feel the weight and joy of that. And then they say something that snaps you back to the moment, something so like the little child again. A word dispels your momentary fear of them slipping away from you.
Transfiguration moments abound, they appear in the donning of the cap and gown of graduation, in the tossing of the car keys when the teenager gets their license, in the first time your child reaches for the check at the restaurant when you are out to eat.
Oh, we know this moment of Transfiguration. It signals a change to come, and change can be delightful, and fearful, and hard all at once, because it marks also a sense of loss.
Why is it the disciples want to build booths when they see the change in Jesus? Is it not for the same reason we fight over the check at the restaurant?
Grow up, but not quite so fast.
Can’t we stay as we are… just a little longer?
It is good that we are here, and good to see this moment, and can it last just a little longer?
But no, down the mountain we must go. There are tasks to be accomplished, work to be done.
We cannot hold the Transfiguration moment. It is a vision, a moment.
But, visions can be remembered, recalled, and employed again. They can be brought back to mind, and will be, to make sense of the future as it unfolds.
The vision of that little girl becoming a woman will be recalled in future events. In the walk down the aisle at her wedding, in the cradling of her own first child, eventually in role reversal, where the child becomes the parent, extended caregiving back to the mother or father who once cradled her.
The vision of the little boy becoming a man will be recalled in future events, as he takes on his own life, finds his own way, and eventually in the role reversal as the things his father helped show him how to do are now returned. “Here dad, let me….”
Oh, we are well acquainted with such moments of transfiguration, when we see, recognize, feel and a word dispels our fear.
But now, we need to pull this back to the story at hand, what the Transfiguration means for faith, because while we now know that we know this experience, we still don’t know exactly what it means for us.
Maybe what it means is this.
Change is possible, and we need not fear its approach, for it comes regardless of our wishes or attempts to hold it back, and God is in the change as it unfolds.
Maybe the reason Jesus gives the disciples this vision is so that they can recall it after the horrific events of trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. That seems to be the direction given. “Tell no one until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Maybe even after 3 years of following in Jesus’ footsteps, even after the resurrection, the life of bringing in the Kingdom becomes a bit of a blur, something hard to sustain.
Did Jesus really do that? Say that?
Were we just imagining the healings?
Was the feeding a miracle, or really just a slight of hand where he got everyone to share the lunch they had tucked away?
When the days get long, and the work gets hard, and you begin to wonder if all this living as a follower of Jesus is worthwhile, as you wait for Jesus’ promised return, what is it that will sustain you?
Is it not those moments of transfiguration? Those times when you saw, recognized, felt and heard a little glimpse of what could be?
Maybe we aren’t supposed to figure out what the Transfiguration means exactly, but rather recall it as a vision bestowed.
Peter, James and John believed this was significant. They spoke of it after the resurrection. It got recorded.
“We got to see a glimpse….”
And maybe, that’s all we will ever get to see at any given time, just a glimpse.
Martin Luther would often speak of how the “true church” was always hidden. How could the Church of Rome with all its corruptions, abuses, and shortcomings be considered a church at all? Where was Jesus in this mess of competing interests, sale of forgiveness, and building of grand structures while the poor suffered?
Well, Christ was indeed there, but Christ was not found in the grand decrees of Popes or the architecture.
No, the “true church” is revealed only in glimpses.
The true church is revealed where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacrament is rightly administered.
It is an event, not a place.
It is a moment, not an institution.
Church happens when Christ reveals in that moment what the individual is to do, to say, or to be to be Christ to the neighbor.
It is the act of Hospitality, the care for the other, the word that must be spoken.
It is the doing of what you are gifted and able to do in this world for the sake of the neighbor.
For Luther, the matter of church was a kind of “cat and mouse” game with Satan, lest the work of the Kingdom be too exposed and Satan get his hands on it. And we know the truth of that. More often than not in doing the “business” of the church we lose sight of in whose name we are doing what we want to do.
Maybe all we get are “glimpses” of how God is at work, how the Kingdom comes of its own accord through and sometimes in spite of our own actions.
Between Baptism and the Mountaintop, that’s where we live our lives as well. So maybe all we are meant to hope for is such a glimpse of God at work in our action now and again. A moment that makes us smile and say, “I see something I’ve never seen before.”
And when the vision is dim? Well then we still have a reminder from God in a booming voice.
“This is my son… listen to him.”