There is a reason why preachers dread Transfiguration Sunday. This is just plain a weird story.
We’re not really sure what to do with a “glow in the dark” Jesus.
We’re not sure what to make of the disciples who witness it, whether they are buffoons, or stammering for what to say, or what.
There are way too many details in the story to try to loop together. Old Testament prophecies, Moses and Elijah, the voice of God booming to declare Jesus the “beloved son” and the direction to “listen to him.”
It’s a weird story with way too many moving parts to try to dissect. Attempts at making sense of the event ultimately fail. Even those who witness it are told to not talk about it until later.
How then does one preach the transfiguration?
I’m taking a little different tact this time around. I’m going to show you a little film clip (I hope) to give you some insight.
Just to set this clip up, it is a singer/actor by the name of Keala Settle, who will play the Bearded Lady in the recent movie “The Greatest Showman.” While the movie uses the person of P.T. Barnum and his circus as a kind of bio-pic, it is really about people coming to terms with who they are. The director does a pretty good job of setting up the experience, but what I want you to watch for in the clip is what I’m going to call “the transfiguration moment.” When did you see her transfigured before your very eyes.
Yes, it’s Hollywood.
Yes, these are professional actors who know how to inhabit a character and how to portray emotion, feeling, and power to us, but I want to argue that there is something happening in that moment that simply transfigures the person, and allows us to see something that we had no idea was there or even possible before.
Did anything you saw of her in the little clip at the beginning prepare you for what she became during the song?
There is a “moment” that happens, when the curtain is pulled back and it’s not just a performance, but there is something of her own self, her own experience being channeled. A moment when we behold something never before seen, and it is quite inexplicable, leaves us breathless.
I want to argue that in the Transfiguration story that is found in all three Synoptic Gospels, the Disciples get a glimpse of their own future, a moment when because of what they seen in Jesus, they can begin to imagine their own transformation, transfiguration from followers into those who will proclaim the Kingdom because they have listened to Jesus.
We know this moment, the moment that changes us.
We can barely put it into words, but we know it.
I think we see this moment all the time, all around us, but we just don’t think about it until much later.
It is the moment when something that is “of God” is revealed to us.
It is a moment that we may not completely understand at the time, but that we can point back to as the moment when things were transformed and we too, were transfigured in a sense.
We know this moment. We have felt it, seen it.
Here’s a moment like that. The moment when a Father walks his daughter down the aisle. I love this picture, and I hope you don’t mind me lifting it to use Bob and Clare, but take a look at it and tell me which one you think is transfigured here?
Is it the bride because she’s certainly radiant and focused on the moment, when daddy walks her to the waiting arms of her beloved.
Or is it the father? Because the look on his face is one of confidence and pride. He’s losing his little girl but he’s gaining sense of pride in how she has grown to become her own woman.
We know this moment. It’s the moment when everything changes and when lives and relationships are transformed, and God is in this moment.
We know this moment. We weren’t on the National Mall to hear Dr. King deliver the “I Have A Dream” speech but you cannot look at this photograph without sensing the gravity of the moment and hearing his words ring in your ears.
It’s unlike any other moment really, except that we have had our own experiences of having to speak up, or to challenge an assumption, or to live into a dream proclaimed.
Maybe it was some other rousing public speaker.
Maybe is was confronting the bias or racism of a co-worker or family member.
Maybe it was in your own family as you talked about what you believe, or revealed what you know to be true for you. Your orientation, your political persuasion, your sense of call or direction for life.
Maybe it was just looking longingly at the photo are realizing how much it cost Dr. King and so many others to advance an idea, and to live into the promises of our founding documents, that all men truly are created equal…
We know this moment. It is the moment when truth is spoken to power, when eloquent words stir the soul, and in that moment, God is present. God is in the moment.
We know this moment. If you have been a parent, if you have held the child in your arms and felt the weight of responsibility and the power of love at creating life, and been awed at both its fragility and its resilience, you have known this moment.
It is a transfiguring moment.
It changes how you see your own life, how you see the one you love, how you see the future and what your hopes and dreams are built around and focused on from this moment on.
You will feel the pain of wondering what the future holds.
You will fear for the events of this world, and what you will leave, and what kind of world this helpless little one will grow up in and inherit.
You cannot hold a baby and not be filled with joy, and fear, and wonder.
It is a transfiguring moment.
We know this moment.
And what I want to argue today is that because we know these moments and a myriad of other moments like them, we also know this moment of Transfiguration of Jesus.
We know what it is to stand in the position of Peter, James and John. and not know exactly what to make of the moment, except to recognize that God is present and near, and that whatever just happened here is something that we will have to make sense of as we reflect on it later, but it has changed our life.
Right now, the important thing is the moment.
Right now, it is standing here with my daughter, my son, knowing that God is here, and will be with her long after I can no longer walk down this aisle, or he or she is walking her own child down it.
Right now, it is hearing words that I recognize to be true echoing in my mind, spurring me to speak when the moment is needed. The assurance that God will be present and will give me the words as needed.
Right now, it is cradling the child and knowing that no matter what else I might have done or messed up, God is the keeper of life and present in a new generation who will sing God’s praise.
Transfiguration is about this moment, where we behold something that will only made sense to much, much later. It is the moment when you knew with absolute clarity that the God who had acted in Moses and Elijah, was active still. Is here with you, booming with a loud voice to listen to Jesus and to remember this moment.
Harking back to this moment was the power that gave voice to Peter on Pentecost, that empowered James and John to work in Jerusalem in the days after Jesus’ ascension.
Remembering the words spoken by Jesus, and this moment of knowing that God was present, having experienced, experienced something on the mountaintop – that was what transfigured frightened disciples who ran from the Garden into Apostles and Teachers who proclaimed Jesus to the ends of the earth.
We know this moment.
We will know it again, and again, and again, as God’s word continues to transfigure us in this world, change us into the disciples we are meant to be.