So today we celebrate the final day of the season of Epiphany before we enter into the season of Lent. The day our liturgical calendar deems, “The Transfiguration of Our Lord”.
Our gospel text for the day, describes those events that regular church goers are all too familiar with. Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John make their way up a mountain, when amidst their journey, Jesus is transfigured before them, his clothes made dazzling white… the spirits of Moses and Elijah appear before them… and a cloud surrounds them like thick fog, the voice of God booming from within, proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, the beloved, whom the disciples are to listen.
It’s safe to say, much like our gospel texts from the past two weeks of demonic possessions and exorcisms, that the transfiguration is one, made up of events none of us here today have experienced for ourselves. Face to face conversations with spirits of dead prophets, clouds coming down from heaven, the voice of God speaking as clearly as I am to you right now. If these are things you have personally experienced, Pastor Mike has plenty of time to talk following worship…
For those of you, like me, who haven’t personally experienced similar events, today’s gospel can easily become one that discourages faith instead of encourages it. One that can easily leave us wondering where God is at in our lives, that we haven’t had a “mountain top experience” of our own in which we meet God in as clearly a way as do Peter, James, and John.
The good news is, there is more to the day, and far more to the story. In being the transitional day moving us from Epiphany into Lent, The Transfiguration of our Lord, is a day that calls for a shift of focus. One that moves our attention from Christ’s human ministry (his teaching, healing, and feeding), to why he was sent to live amongst humanity in the first place (to die on a cross and be raised from the dead, that forgiveness and the gift of eternal life would be given).
With this, it is a day that is “incomplete”, we could say. It is a day of “not yet”… of “anticipation” and “unknown”… and to, one of “hope” and “promise” as well.
Our gospel writer draws us to this “incompleteness” in today’s text, by bookending it with such. In our opening verse Mark writes… “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain.”
Throughout scripture, the number six (hex in the Greek), connotes imperfection… incompleteness… While the book of Genesis describes the world being created in six days, it wasn’t until the seventh day that all was blessed and made holy… A Hebrew slave was expected to serve six years, released on year seven… Six years for land to be sown and harvested before given rest… Men are appointed six days to labor before granted the same…
For our purposes today, by Jesus and his disciples going up the mountain on the sixth day, we are to understand the journey is not yet complete. That the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God coming from the voice in the cloud, is simply a foretaste of what is to come, not the end of the story.
In our other bookend, as we see in our final verse for today, telling us again that there is more to the story, Jesus orders his three disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead… till the story has come to its’ height…
With this, the account of Jesus’ transfiguration, as it was for Peter, James, and John, is one meant to offer us insight into who Jesus is, the Son of God, whom God loves… the One we are to listen to… and too, what his presence in the world is meant to achieve.
Much of my pastoral week this week was filled with stories of hurt and sadness coming from unexpected places… In some senses an ordinary week in the life of a pastor.
Broken homes and divided families, young people in crisis, parents and other mentors unsure of what to do and how best to respond, the word cancer spoken all too often, too little resources available to manage it all in the way it ought to be managed… and throughout it all, questions surrounding God’s presence.
Yet, along the way, these moments of hurt and sadness, interposed by moments of hope and promise, where love and support were offered. While not the final one, answers to those questions of God’s presence and purpose. Like the events of Jesus’ transfiguration, while not complete, a glimpse of Christ’s glory.
As we walk through the valleys of our lives, God comes to us and surrounds us with his presence that our moments of suffering would be bound together with our moments of glory in relationship with God, who through Christ, is present with us in both. That the glory of God would be felt in our mountaintop experiences and in our valleys as well. That in those times when our stories appear to be anything but complete, we can look to the promise of which we move toward in our journey to the cross… the promise that comes to us beyond The Transfiguration, once the spirits of Moses and Elijah are no longer visible and the cloud from the heavens dissolves…
For, when we come down from our mountains, it is Jesus who meets us at the base in the presence of parents and mentors unsure of what to do and how best to respond, the doctors who offer their care when challenging diagnosis are given, those who seek to respond when few resources are available, and the love and support that is offered… From our highest peaks to our lowest valleys Jesus is there… The Good News for us this day and every day.
As we move from Epiphany and into the season of Lent, it is Jesus that will go to the cross alone… In his death, as the disciples find an empty tomb, in that moment when God’s presence appeared to be gone forever, it was Jesus alone who came and walked among them.
As our focus draws us to Gethsemane, looking up at the cross of Christ, we are called to trust the journey in all of its’ incompleteness and uncertainty… to listen to and for Jesus in our ups and downs… and to place our faith, like Peter, James and John, in his death and his resurrection, without fully understanding the promise given… the promise that transforms us into the likeness of Christ… that frees us to follow Him, transforming the lives of others along the way… and makes all things complete. For the voice that deems Jesus as the one whom God loves, marks us as the same… For this we offer our thanks and praise to the Lord, Alleluia, Amen.
~Pr Andrew Geib