Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 23, 2020
St. Matthew 17:1-9
Remember your Confirmation Class when the pastor or priest came in to teach the class? Maybe you or others in the class would raise questions.
The Lutheran take on the sacrament of Holy Communion is pretty strange. Is the sacrament bread and wine? Yes! Is it the body and blood of Christ, too? Yes. It is both – and you may recall the heavy use of prepositions to get at what is going on – ‘in, with, and under the bread and the wine is the body and blood of Christ.’
Who can explain that? It is what Lutherans call a paradox – holding two things that seem not to go together – together. Yet, how satisfying is that explanation?
I remember my pastor somewhat exhausted from our questions finally telling us ‘It is a mystery, we cannot explain a mystery.’
That seemed to me to put an end to the discussion – as though when something in religion is a mystery you are to accept it without question.
I was wrong – saying something is a mystery does not stop our questions but invites more questions…everyone likes a good mystery…mystery novels keep us glued to the page…a good mystery movie draws us into an “Aha!” experience. Mysteries are not always solved but keep us on edge and going deeper.
I was wrong. And the pastor was not necessarily trying to close off questions. When something is a mystery it does not mean we stop questioning – but it means that our questions, though unanswered will take us deeper into the mystery.
All three Scripture readings attest to a mystery. Moses goes up to the mountain and encounters God in a cloud of mystery – we can only speculate what happened to him during those 40 days. Later on we are told that his face shined like the sun when he arrived back at the camp with the Law.
Matthew and Peter both give witness to the mystery of Christ transfigured before the three disciples – Peter, James, and John. Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus and a bright cloud overshadows them. In fear we revert to what we know. So, Peter, out of fear clings to the tradition of making a place – a Tabernacle for the sacred, domesticating what he cannot grasp.
Then a voice from heaven is heard by the three disciples: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” The three disciples fall to the ground and as quickly as the vision came it disappeared – you know how it is trying to remember your dreams. If you do not write them down right away they often evaporate.
Then Jesus is there alone – touching them and telling them: “Get up and do not be afraid.” It is a common assurance whenever the Divine appears in Scripture – the greeting is often: ‘Do not be afraid.’
Then Jesus gives explicit instructions that they are to remember the vision but tell no one until after the cross and resurrection.
The story of the Transfiguration is strange. If it was not in Scripture and another prophet was being transformed we’d have even more questions. But mystics and mystery are not to be explained but rather experienced and the telling of this experience can shed some light on how we make it through our lives.
So this story invites questions in order to lead to a deeper relationship with the Divine.
The disciples did not get it – this experience threw them off – it is only in looking back that it deepened their faith and relationship with God.
Yet this moment – a resurrection moment - was meant to shed light on every other moment and transform the disciples.
It was Yogi Berra who said some nonsensical things that left one saying: ‘Huh!” Like ‘when you come to a fork in the road – take it!’
Yes, that is funny and seems not to make sense – but to the mystic and poet it could mean going down both roads at the same time or taking a path down the middle – between the two. Or it suggests just doing the ‘out of the ordinary’ and seeing life from an altogether different perspective.
That is what Epiphany and this Transfiguration story is about – taking us down a different path so that we might see life from an altogether different perspective.
Context is so important. Just before this Transfiguration account, Matthew tells us that Jesus explicitly reveals to the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be killed and on the third day be raised.
Peter takes Jesus aside and chides him, saying: “God, forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.”
Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for your are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
This incident sets the stage for the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration begins to set their minds on divine things so that they may see human things in a divine light.
This moment –the Transfiguration, along with the resurrection wrote the Gospels. The Gospels are all written from the perspective of the open tomb.
This moment – really a resurrection moment – sheds light on all our moments and opens them up to change – growth – meaning. The disciples never looked at Jesus in the same way – their witness to the cross is given through the lens of the transfiguration and open tomb.
There is truth in the cliché and that ‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn.’ The mystics know it and have shared their witness to that insight.
“Blessed are the weird people, poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, musicians, troubadours, for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” Jacob Norby
A conversation overheard:
“How do you do it – make it given the circumstances?” The circumstances were the failing health of a loved one.
“By the grace of God,” he said. It was a sincere heartfelt response.
‘By the grace of God’ is not an answer – but a way of living. It does not answer the question of why or undo the difficult circumstances we may find ourselves in.
But living ‘by the grace of God’ shines the light of the transfiguration into our darkness.
It means we trust – not knowing – we trust that God’s divine grace will have the last word…that the darkest hour is before the dawn…but the dawn is coming.
In his book A Year to Live – Steven Levine tells of his experience with hospice patients.
“His daily encounters with those who had been given a terminal diagnosis often revealed people with transformed lives. Their perspective on life changed, their priorities were reordered, and many of the circumstances and choices that had crippled them before their diagnosis evaporated into new life.
[Out of that experience Levine tried an experiment.] He set a date for his own death and lived as though he would die on that day. His book, A Year to Live, records his radical experiment to get a glimpse of that transformation himself. In so doing, he gave himself permission to address his unfinished business and enter into a new vibrant relationship to life. He gained a new appreciation to live each moment mindfully.”
[Source: Living the Questions the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity – David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, page 124]
The Divine Light of the risen Christ shines in the darkness of our circumstances – opening us up to trust God and live each moment mindful of God’s grace, knowing that God will not abandon us.