Transfiguration A: Up and Down the Mountain
March 5-6, 2011
2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus takes 3 of his inner circle of disciples – Peter, James, and John.
He tells them to follow him and leads them on a hike up a mountain.
This in itself isn’t unusual – Jesus went up mountains quite often –
to pray, to preach, to teach.
But this time it’s different.
There are no crowds around.
There’s only the four of them – they think.
Then suddenly Jesus is changed – he is transfigured.
His face is shining like the sun.
His clothes become dazzling white.
If that isn’t miraculous enough, two other people appear out of nowhere.
Moses and Elijah are there – talking with him, shooting the breeze, like it happened all the time!
Dumbfounded Peter, doesn’t know what to do –
take a picture – build a monument – he wants to do something!
so he suggests that they preserve the moment by building tents for the three of them.
And then another light appears.
This time it’s in the form of a cloud – a bright cloud we’re told –
which overshadows them.
And a voice from the cloud speaks, saying,
“This is my Son, the Beloved – listen to him!”
It is no ordinary mountaintop experience.
One man undergoes a metamorphosis in front of their very eyes.
Two others who’ve been dead close to a couple thousand of years, come back to life… and then disappear as fast as they show up!
And if that’s not enough, clouds begin to speak!
It’s the original spectacular “Sight and Sound” Theater,
except it’s not in Lancaster, and it’s not theater.
I don’t think Jesus needed to have bothered to tell the disciples
not to tell their vision to anyone…
I doubt they would have rushed down the mountain shouting out,
“Guess what we saw!”
We close the season of Epiphany with the Transfiguration story.
We close the season of light and wonder,
with a most marvelous, mysterious, mystical story of light and wonder.
Jesus is transformed in front of them.
God claims him as God’s son.
Jesus’ human nature meets his divine nature.
Humanity meets divinity.
Wonder and awe fill the mountain.
Why don’t I think the disciples would have run down the mountain to tell everyone what they saw?
Because wonder and awe are just not things we adults talk about!
Perhaps those of you with children understand the timing of this better than I –
but there is a time – a sad time I think –
when children who used to ask ‘why’ all the time stop asking their questions.
They stop asking, ”Why is the sky blue?’;
or ‘Why can’t I fly?” or “Why is that man sleeping on the bench?”
They all too quickly learn
that the world tires of their wondering questions.
Author Mike Gecan, talks about visiting his child’s Kindergarten class.
He saw a bulletin board showing what the students said they wanted to learn in school that year.
Most of the statements were like, “I want to learn to behave,” “to sit still,” “to follow the rules,” or “listen to the teacher better.”
One child said “I want to know why the ocean shines like fire.”[i]
Now that’s a child with a sense of wonder!
The top of that mountain was filled with a sense of wonder!
The ocean was shining like fire!
But it wasn’t too long until the disciples and Jesus had to go down the mountain.
And at the bottom of the mountain was a very harsh reality.
At the bottom of the mountain there was illness.
At the bottom of the mountain there was anxiety.
At the bottom of the mountain there was frustration.
As soon as they come down the mountain, the disciples and Jesus see a crowd.
A man comes running to Jesus.
His son is afflicted by a demon and he begs Jesus to heal him.
Apparently the other 9 disciples – the ones who didn’t get to go along on the hike – have been trying to heal him, but haven’t been able to.
Things change quickly.
Glory changes to the ordinary.
Light changes to darkness.
Wonder changes to reality.
There have been many drawings, paintings, and sculptures
of the scene of the Transfiguration.
But only one artist – the great Renaissance artist Raphael
has shown both of these parts of the Transfiguration –
both the mountain top experience and the valley below.
Slide 1: full painting
This was the last painting Raphael ever did – and it was his favorite.
He had it placed at the head of his deathbed.
It now is displayed in the Vatican museum.
Slide 2: top half of painting
The top half of the painting shows Jesus in his glory
standing (or rather floating) between Moses and Elijah
with Peter, James, and John on the ground overcome by the vision.
Slide 3: bottom half of painting
The bottom half of the painting is very different.
The mood is different. The colors are different.
There is an anxious, maybe even frantic crowd including the 9 disciples, the father, and boy.
Illness; anxiety; and frustration fill the scene.
Slide 4: full painting
Raphael knew that there is never a mountain without a valley.
God’s glory is only seen in contrast to the darkness.
Peter didn’t keep his vision to himself forever…
As we heard in our 2nd reading, he later saw the vision for what it was –
it was a lamp in the darkness.
As his followers later write, it was a glimpse of glory
to keep in front of them – to keep in front of us –
until, someday, we won’t need the vision,
we won’t need the painting,
we won’t need any other reminders,
because the day will dawn, the morning star will rise, and the glory of God will be in our hearts forever.
Today as we celebrate the Transfiguration,
we sing our fill of Alleluias; we get a spectacular glimpse of God’s glory.
But in a few days, we begin our trip down the mountain.
Our journey of Lent begins.
40 days in which we move from the wonder and awe of today
to the harsh reality of our sinfulness.
The alleluias are placed on hold these weeks,
and we begin the walk of the cross.
May the vision we receive today
of the glory and majesty of God on the mountaintop
carry us through this valley of Lent and all the valleys of our lives
until the morning star rises in our hearts. Amen.