February 26th: Feast of the Transfiguration

Click here to read Mark 9:2-9.

Last Wednesday evening, I preached at the Disciples worship service at Chapman University. The new chapel is a sight to behold. It is architecturally, aesthetically, and spiritually breathtaking. My favorite part was the set of stained glass windows. These windows don’t have the exquisitely detailed designs of our sanctuary windows. They are plainly colored with the shades of the lectionary—red, green, purple, and white. And supposedly, they are placed in such a way that the appropriate liturgical color will be dominant during each extended liturgical season. How the designers managed to calculate this is a mystery, but during the long months of Ordinary time, the sanctuary is filled with light filtered through the green glass. It is a beautiful reminder of the deep connection between the seasons of the Church and the seasons of the earth. Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany—the last reminder, for the time being, that God’s light blazes even in the darkness of winter. Beginning this Ash Wednesday, we take a sharp turn into a very different season— a season of journeys, shadows, and sorrow.

Even though I trust the logic and spirit of the liturgical year and the weekly lectionary scriptures, this week I was caught off guard. This being my first year of preaching on a weekly basis, all the curves in the road are still unfamiliar. I had gotten pretty used to working through the first and second chapters of the Gospel of Mark in a tidy, sequential way. Studying Mark’s purposeful narrative offers such a clear portrait of the amazing beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. I was all ready to dive deeper into the second chapter of Mark, all ready to tag along as Jesus eats dinner with Levi the tax collector.

But the lectionary points us to a very different time and place in the Gospel according to Mark. We skip past teachings and parables, healings and miracles, and we land at the foot of a mountain. Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and on this last Sunday of the season of Light, we join Christians the world over to gather with Peter and James and watch as a supernatural event unfolds.

Weeks ago, on Epiphany Sunday, we recalled the brilliant star that led the Magi to the newborn Christ child. That light revealed that Christ would be the light of the world. Today we celebrate the fulfillment of that light, the Christchild grown up into a man in dazzling white clothes, conversing with the great figures of the faith. These stories are seasonal bookends of light and life—the first the light of incarnation, and the last the light of resurrection. Here we are given the gift of a foretaste of what is to come, and just in the nick of time. The 40 days of Lent can be exhausting. Even though we need to grapple honestly with the journey toward the cross, we also cannot afford to lose hope. So today we are given a supersized dose of hope—a supernatural sized dose of hope.

The story of the transfiguration is big and marvelous, and if we’re going to be completely honest, it’s a little weird. Peter and James certainly experienced the event as terrifying and strange. Peter offers the feeble suggestion that they build a dwelling—a tabernacle to commemorate the transfigured Jesus in communion with Elijah and Moses. This is a silly suggestion, and Peter knows it right away. For all of the miracles that Peter and James have seen in their travels with Jesus, nothing prepares them to see the Son of Man in full glory. They are terrified. It doesn’t help that this event transpires immediately after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. These two disciples are startled by the realization that their fraternity with this holy man is even bigger, even more cosmic than they could have imagined.

On that mountain we witness such a medley of glory and confusion. Jesus has taken on a transfigured shine, Elijah and Moses have stopped by for a midnight chat, and Peter and James are trembling with terror. And in the midst of this mountaintop experience, a cloud overshadows the whole mountain, and the thunderous sweet voice of God proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”

Let’s stay here a minute, tarry for awhile in this moment and on this mountain. In our fast-paced world of constant entertainment and amusement, we’re in danger of missing the terrific depth of the transfiguration. Glory is a difficult concept for us to wrap our minds around, for it isn’t a concept at all. The glorified Jesus emanates the presence of the divine source of all light and life and love. This isn’t some second-rate special effects show. This is God, dramatically and purposefully breaking into the orderly brokenness of Creation. God can and does show up— and nothing is ever the same. This moment in time was transfigured, and so too will God continue to burst into history, transfiguring and redeeming the whole of Creation through the glorious light of Christ.

Of course, the moment doesn’t last. Peter’s suggestion to build a tabernacle to memorialize the transfiguration of Christ was a desperate attempt to capture the moment and make it last forever. But God’s glory cannot be contained any more than God’s voice can be recorded and marketed at the Christian bookstores. The moment ends, but the commandment that descended from the Heavens remains: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”

Listen to him. We might not have been on that mountain, seeing what Peter and James saw, but they preserved the most important piece of the whole story—God’s commandment to listen to what his Son actually had to say. This commandment is intimately related to the transfiguration, inextricably bound to the revelation of God’s glory.

How so? By listening to the beloved Son of God, we glorify him.

And this is how one of the most supernatural stories in the whole gospel gets very, very practical. In the course of foreshadowing the glorious resurrection of Christ, we are reminded once again that there is a purpose behind the scandalous incarnation. There is a reason for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not walk the dusty roads of Galilee only to die that violent death on Calvary. If that were the case, the evangelists wouldn’t have bothered to document the parables and miracles that Jesus shared with his people. The gospel story would be completely alien without the gentle, ordinary, glorious voice of Jesus speaking a new word to Creation.

Listen to him. Listen to him through the call to compassionate giving on this Week of Compassion Sunday. Listen to him throughout the contemplative season of Lent, calling you toward a life more closely aligned with his shining love. Listen to him as you pray, listen to him as you share meals around the holy table of communion. Listen to him through the relationships you nurture with friends and family. Listen to him through the scriptures. And by the grace of God, let what you hear empower you to glorify Christ Jesus, the light of the world. Amen.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Well done, as always.