This year, we have been focusing on the theme of Sacred Space.
I’ll bet you would agree with me that being on top of the mountain where Jesus is transfigured, , standing alongside of Moses and Elijah, hearing the voice of God, definitely counts as a Sacred Space.
No wonder Peter wanted to build three little huts up there and stay. It must have been an overwhelming experience for the three disciples to have this other-worldly vision of Jesus, shining and transformed, and the two great exemplars of the faith standing next to him.
But what does this story mean? Every year our church, as well as other churches who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, get to hear the story of the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, just before we begin the season of Lent.
We also celebrate the Transfiguration on its Feast Day, the 6th of August. Which incidentally is the time each year that we at St. Michael’s have our Annual Parish Retreat on top of the Mountain at Shrine Mont in the Shenandoah Mountains. The outdoor stone worship space is officially the Shrine of the Transfiguration, and the Diocese of Virginia counts it as their cathedral. So, mark your calendars now for that first weekend in August!
The story of the Transfiguration appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and of course we hear the different versions depending on which year we are in. This being Year C, we hear Luke.
Some scholars believe the Prologue to the Gospel of John also alludes to the transiguration:
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 4-5,14)
Peter, who had been silent about the transfiguration before Jesus’ death and resurrection, writes about it himself in 2nd Peter:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)
In Luke’s version of the Transfiguration, we get to hear what it is that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about: “They were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” But our English translation is a little weak here. Actually it says, The were speaking of his “Exodus” which he was about the “Fulfill” at Jerusalem.
You remember, of course, that the great and glorious act of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, and remembered each year at the Passover, is the Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God sent Moses to set his people free, to lead his people from slavery into Freedom, albeit via 40 years of wandering in the dessert. In our Old Testament reading, we heard about the second time Moses was up on the mountain, getting the tablets of the law, and how his experience of being face to face with God made his own face radiant with God’s glory.
That same story of Exodus is repeated, in an even fuller way in Jesus. Jesus’ role is also to lead God’s people, you and me, out of slavery into freedom, by becoming, himself, the Passover lamb, the unblemished, perfect one, whose sacrificial death and blood shields us from death.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we experience the Exodus from a life of sin and slavery to the little gods of this world and are released into wholeness of life.
The story of the Transfiguration appears in the scriptures sandwiched between predictions of Jesus’ suffering and death. The Transfiguration serves as a turning point in the Gospel Story. After he comes down the mountain he will “turn his face toward Jerusalem,” where he will take up his cross and fulfill God’s purpose of reconciling the world to himself.
That is why we celebrate the Transfiguration just before we enter the season of Lent. As Jesus journeys to Jerusalem, we are also called to Journey the 40 days of Lent, daily taking up our cross. Just as Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan during his 40 days in the wilderness, we are called to take the 40 days of Lent and hold on to our baptismal promises to renounce evil and sin, and seek to be more Christ-like.
The Collect of the Day, the prayer we say at the beginning of the service says it beautifully:
“O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Being able to experience a Transfiguration moment, being able to witness the glory of God in a spectacular way, can indeed be an encouraging memory to hold on to when life is hard, and the road of discipleship is difficult.
Some of you have had Transfiguration experiences in your life. I know I have. Maybe not to the extent of seeing a vision of Jesus transfigured on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah speaking with him, but some transcendent experience of God’s Glory. Perhaps in inspiring worship, or in a miracle of healing, or a time of deep prayer, or in the middle of a glorious spectacle of nature. Hold onto those moments, write about them in your journal. Draw strength from them in the tough times.
But some of you may not have had a Transfiguration experience you can really point to. Jesus hasn’t appeared to you, Glowing. You are a faithful follower of Jesus, but your Spiritual life isn’t necessarily full of spectacular experiences. I’d say, don’t worry about that. Jesus only took three of the disciples up onto the mountain to pray with him. The rest of the disciples were down in the valley, dealing, apparently, with a pretty challenging situation of trying to exercise a demon from a young boy.
This part of the story is actually very important for our everyday understanding of life with Jesus.
We don’t get to stay on the mountaintop.
Our experiences of Jesus’ glorious Transfiguration may be few and far between.
But in the valley of life, down off the mountain, in the middle of the everyday, the Glory of God can be just as evident.
“Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
You and I live the majority of our lives in the valley. We live in the everyday-ness of life. Commuting to and from work, taking care of the kids or the grandkids, volunteering, dealing with our own, or our loved-ones’ health issues, trying to complete that one project we’ve been working on…
And I think we often times don’t expect that Jesus is going to show up in the middle of the everydayness. We struggle with our problems, big and small, and sometimes forget to even reach out to Jesus for help or guidance.
Perhaps this frustrates Jesus, just like it seems to have in the Gospel story we read. “How much longer do I have to put up with you faithless screw-ups!” But the story of the Jesus down off the mountain shows us that the Glory of God is here too, and it sometimes doesn’t show itself until we are in the middle of messy and challenging times.
Maybe as a spiritual discipline, you and I can take time each evening to reflect on the hills and valleys of our day, and ask ourselves,
“Where did I see the glory of God today?”
“Where did Jesus’ light shine through the darkness of this world?”
“How was I able to reflect Christ’s radiance?”
“Where did I see or participate in an exodus – a movement, big or small, from oppression and captivity to Freedom?”
When we realize that the Glory of God is all around us, in little ways as well as big ones, the everyday world becomes Transfigured by Christ’s presence, and every place becomes a Sacred Space.