May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer . . .
I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .
I’m feeling . . . and I’m hearing many of you say that it doesn’t seem possible that we’re coming to Ash Wednesday and Lent already. It seems that we just finished up the Christmas season. With Easter coming fairly early, there are only five weeks in the season after Epiphany this year.
Every year on this last Sunday before Lent we hear the story of the Transfiguration. (August 6 is officially designated for observance of the Transfiguration. So again in August we hear the story of Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop – with Jesus radiating light as Moses and the prophet Elijah appear with him – forming the Mount Rushmore of heavenly glory. This story ends up being a very familiar one for anyone who attends church regularly.
Today is the grand finale of the season of Epiphany, the season of Light. We’re heading into Lent, the season that is often portrayed as a season of darkness. The main point of Transfiguration today, is – I think –that there is a brilliant light that continues to shine in the darkness. That Light is Jesus Christ.
The description that I’m giving you here – and the vocabulary that the gospels use to describe the Transfiguation – are highly symbolic. Did the human Jesus actually glow in the dark, . . . Did he actually light up physically? I don’t know. But that’s what Peter, James and John experienced. And that’s how the Glory and the Presence of God was for them on the mountaintop.
Mountain top experiences are very, very real! I know it because I’ve been there . . . and I know many of you have too! However he’s unveiled – Jesus is real! But it may be hard to describe or talk about. It was hard for Peter, James and John, too. When they came down off the mountain they kept silent about what happened, at least for the time being.
Mountaintop experiences are usually fleeting as well. Try as we might we can’t sustain them. When Peter tried to hang on to the glory – speaking up as he was wont to do – when he suggested that they set up some tents for Jesus and Moses and Elijah to stay in – before the words were out of his mouth – a cloud moved in and the Glory was gone. . .
Or was it gone??
In our Thursday morning bible study we’ve been reading the Book of Revelation. Revelation is full of fantastic descriptions of the glory of Jesus. It’s the same kind of supernatural, apocalyptic sense that these verses from Luke have about Jesus’ transfiguration. We’re discovering in our bible study that when you put the Book of Revelation into the context of the whole Bible, it seems to tie together the past, the present and the future – the Alpha and the Omega.
The Transfiguration story does the same thing. When Jesus and his followers start up the mountain in order to get away and pray, they are very much in the present of their everyday world. But when they get to the top . . . while Jesus is praying . . . he suddenly catches on fire from within. This is a foretaste of the glory of the risen Christ to come – the glory of the future delight of heaven.
And then the whole of Israel’s past appears – Moses, the patriarch and writer of the law . . . and Elijah, the prophet most closely associated with the coming of the Messiah. This is the whole history of the Jewish people in the “Law and the Prophets.”
The past and future come together in the present – the past and future inform and enlighten the present – in a super reality that is the present moment.
When Jesus and Moses and Elijah come together they talk about death, the death that Jesus is headed for in Jerusalem. But instead of calling it death they call it his “departure.” And instead of something that will happen to him, it’s something he will accomplish – by choice and determined effort. This all plays into His glory, and the awesomeness of the Tranfiguration,
Peter, James and John came down from the mountain changed men. They reentered the day-to-day time zone .and joined Jesus on the trek to Jerusalem as Jesus firmly set his face on Jerusalem – on to his passion and death.
Peter, James and John walked with Jesus into the darkness on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. And although they didn’t talk about the experience of the light and glory on the Mountaintop, I’m sure that as they entered the darkness they certainly must have looked back to that Light. . . for a dose of glory to get them through.
The Good News for us is that the dazzling light of our own mountaintops never goes out. It shines in and through our past to continue to heal the pain of the past. Jesus enters our darkest interior places – he rebukes the unclean spirits living inside us – and returns us to himself. At the same time, the light of the future and final mountaintop shines through the present darkness to keep us – and to call us in the right direction.
Think back on your own mountaintop moments – those very real moments when Jesus was so there for you. When you first met him and his light burst onto the scene. When he came to you and you knew his face was shining on yours. When his presence settled over you and filled you with assurance.
Do you ever return to the glory of those moments in prayer — a dose of glory to get you through the darkness?
We’ll be moving into Lent next week. Lent is a time of reflection . . . a time of self-exploration . . . a time to intentionally allow Christ’s light to expose and heal the pain of the past. Here’s Peter’s reflection on Jesus’ Transfiguration. Taken to heart I think it provides us with an ideal meditation—a call to awareness for the coming season of Lent:
(From the Second Letter of Peter:)
“For when Jesus received honor and glory from God the Father . . . we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. . . . . . . You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”