The Transfiguration is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels and is unique in that it happens to Jesus himself. It is one of the five milestones of Jesus’ life: baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Thomas Aquinas referred to it as the “greatest miracle” since it completed the act of Jesus’ baptism by highlighting the perfection of life in the goal of God’s renewing and reconciling mission.
The synopsis from all the Gospels has Jesus taking his closest disciples Peter, James and John, people whom he’s called out of their everyday lives into a life of discipleship, up to the top of a mountain. Perhaps he told them they were going camping. Then, at the top of the mountain Jesus begins to glow, his face shone like the sun, his garments turn dazzling white. If that weren’t enough Moses and Elijah appear and speak with him. Peter says it’s good to be here and wants to make 3 dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to stay. Then a bright cloud comes over and a voice booms from it: “This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” By this point the disciples are terrified. Jesus stops glowing, touches them and says “get up” and something he often says “do not be afraid.” They all then return to their world back down the mountain.
We know in scripture that the mountaintop is a special place where God is encountered. Moses and others encounter God on the mountaintop. This story also depicts the archetypal heroic journey. Regular people: Peter, James and John, are called out of a normal life on a journey, to a place where transformation takes place, and then returned home changed.
The mountaintop is the pivotal place where humanity encounters God, where the temporal meets the eternal. And Jesus is the bridge connecting heaven and earth. In Him is both the temporal and the eternal, and the route for humanity to connect to God.
This is the story of the mission of the church: of being gathered, transformed and sent. It’s our story of discipleship.
Jesus gathers us from the World as it Is and journeys with us to a place where through him we encounter a taste of the World as it Should Be. That’s why Peter didn’t want to leave. Let’s build some dwellings and stay a while, Peter says. Of course one would want to stay in the World as it Should Be.
But for our God, the goal of transformation is not about self-salvation but for engaging in God’s mission in the world. That’s God speaks to the disciples on the mountain, telling them that they must follow Jesus. Jesus is the beloved, the one whom we emulate and are commanded to listen to. No wonder they are fearful.
They return to their world, and their lives but they’ve seen a bit of heaven, a smattering of the true reality, the World as it Should Be and cannot go back to their old lives. Having tasted heaven, they are changed forever, and become agents of transformation in the life of the new creation.
We hear echoes of this story in: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:
“[Gandalf] sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a large rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and his grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staff…. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. (Two Towers p. 102)”
Gandalf was changed after his journey, as were Sam and Frodo and others. Tolkien wasn’t alluding that Gandalf was a metaphor of Jesus. Instead he highlights that Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo and Sam all have Christ-like qualities. That’s the point. Every Christian is meant to take on the form of Christ. Each of us in our lives travels to the mountain top and experiences transformation and are sent back to be like Christ. Once called and transformed, we return to the world changed AND with power. Power to transform the world.
We become “little Christs” in our lives. The glowing cloud said, this is God’s Son Listen to him, be like him, live like him. So transformed by the glimpse of the World as it Should Be we return to the World as it Is and participate in God’s mission to transform it.
This is a story about power, life changing, wonder-working power that can transform this world. Power that we receive in our own call to discipleship & ministry.
We like Peter try to build dwellings on the mountain. Either because its so nice there, like it is in the beauty and peace of our worship and buildings, that we want to stay in that Presence, or because we want to try and contain the power of God. We attempt to limit God to a certain time and place, putting the awesome, uncreated light into a box of a certain time and place on a day of the week to make God personal and private.
When we do either of these we aren’t listening to God’s Son. We’re called to journey out into the world. Our call can be frightening, and it pushes us out of our comfort zone but it is our mission to walk with God in, paraphrasing Dr. King, transforming the injustice of the world.
Injustice is allowing the conditions that create the dehumanizing, soul sucking poverty and despair of the DTES, it’s the discrimination against First Nations people and immigrants, the mistreatment of people of colour by police, the Chinese exclusion and Japanese internments, its violence and discrimination against people because of whom they love, the unacceptable number of overdose deaths in this City, the carding of people because of the way they look, and the failure to respect the dignity of every human being. When we allow these to continue we are complacent in supporting injustice and we’re not listening to God’s Son.
Somewhere I read about a Charter, about freedom of religion, freedom of expression of peaceful assembly and of association. Of mobility rights and the life, liberty and security of the person. Somewhere I read about limiting search and seizure and against arbitrary detention, freedom against cruel and unusual punishment, a presumption of innocence and rights of equality.
Somewhere I read about the greatness of Canada being its diversity and its willingness to accept everyone as equal.
We have seen much progress, but we can’t let complacency or fear keep us from continuing forward. We must continue to demand and work for an end to injustice and the systems that perpetuate it for all people.
We have been gathered to journey to the mountaintop and be transformed and then sent to return to the World as it Is and bring the vision of the World as it Should Be that we glimpsed and live into it here and now. No matter what the cost, listening to God’s Son and following his example.
On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King said: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
These prophetic words are our call to action. My friends, we have been to the mountaintop, and we have seen the promised land, the World as it Should Be. We know what it looks like. And we must be willing to do everything we can to bring all people to the Promised Land. Do not fear any person for our eyes have seen the Glory of the Lord and the World as it Should Be with justice for all is attainable and together with God we shall overcome.