It’s Transfiguration Sunday!!! Shazam!! Yahoo! Yesss!!! Sweet! Woot!
What? You don’t seem to be that excited? Well to be honest, when I started looking over the text I wondered myself. I wondered what the image of the Transfiguration might mean for us? I mean other than the liturgical title of the Sunday on the bulletin what does it really mean?
I feel we need to be able to talk about our faith in a way that allows us to share it understandably with others, and to do that we need to be careful about using “jargon words” and “inside stories.” Being church is not just what happens in these walls but also engaging the larger world outside. A world that we need to meet in the context in which it exists. Christianity is not the norm in the public sphere anymore, everybody doesn’t know its contexts, its stories, beliefs and principles. We can’t assume everyone goes to church or even has a positive image of the church let alone know its stories and beliefs. When I speak with people in the streets, young people, or older people who have pretty traditional lives, I find they are sometimes 2 generations removed from any contact or participation in a church community. So we need to be careful about using words and concepts that have no meaning outside of an insider group. We also can’t effectively share our faith unless we understand it ourselves and are comfortable dialoguing about it with others.
So I thought, sure, how often do we use the word Transfiguration in our everyday conversations?! How do we drop it in casual conversation? “Dude, want to go to the see the Whitecaps play this Friday, Oh sorry I can’t I’m going to see the Transfiguration. Oh ok, is that the play by Sophocles?”
One thing I looked at was the root of the word transfiguration. A Greek word, that you see on some of the icons of the Transfiguration is metamorphosis. For those with science backgrounds that might be a bit more understandable. We all remember the process of metamorphosis that a caterpillars goes through to become a butterfly? [describe] In the Transfiguration it is Christ taking on a heavenly body, as some might say a foretaste of the resurrection body.
“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” That got me thinking some more, when has a brilliantly glowing holy figure made sense anyway? Even in the church. What would we do if we walked in to the building and saw an event like that taking place in the office? Call the fire department? [The Dean is combusting]
So what are we to do with the image of a bright glowing Jesus standing in the midst of the other radiating people?
Well maybe it isn’t meant to be figured out. Maybe its not intended for us to dissect and atomize it into understandable components but what if it is supposed to show us something? Perhaps the event is a hint, a forecast of the promise of the resurrection and the new nature that will be bestowed upon when God raises him. Maybe it is meant to be appreciated. Maybe it is meant to draw us and others towards him. Whatever it is it’s certainly not subtle. Unlike Jesus’ baptism which seems to have taken place a bit more privately, where its not clear if anyone heard the voice of God booming forth and the heavens slashed open except for Jesus, the transfiguration is a bit more public, others hear the voice, it is a bit more ostentatious. Jesus is like a lighthouse blazing on the mountaintop and the voice from the heavens is addressing the witnesses, his disciples. At this event it’s quite clear that Jesus wants to be seen transforming, there’s no secrecy here. A transformed body clothed in shining white clothes is not meant to be subtle. It’s a very public statement a very public display of Jesus, of God’s presence breaking into the world. Wow, the CBC would have a fit with this public display of religion! They are constantly reinforcing the idea that our faith is a private matter not a public one. That its personal and private and has no place in the public sphere. Something measured and tame, not big and bold and bright light the glowing white, holy figure of the transfiguration.
I also began thinking of it as a place where the boundary between the human and the divine became fuzzier. Where one zone spilled over into another. It’s a place where the regular rules don’t apply anymore, the everyday cues and perspectives that we use to judge ourselves and this world. In the Transfiguration we are given a new view, a new glimpse of reality that can perhaps transform our understanding, that can help remake our world.
It’s also a place where God enters the story and this time in a public, impressive and loving manner. “This is my Son the beloved” says God, “Listen to him”. This is my Son, my child whom I love. It depicts God in the manner of a parent doesn’t it? A God of relationship. A God of Love. A bit different than what we often heard of in the Old Testament, where God was often awe-inspiring, terrifying, and beyond comprehension. Here we have a God who seems to be rooted in things we can comprehend, in love and relationship.
We then have God saying “Listen to him” When I hear this I think of an exclamation point. Listen to Him! Perhaps an even if you don’t want to, listen to him even if he tells you things that you don’t want to hear. Looking to the chapter in Mark just before the Transfiguration we see that Jesus tells the disciples about his upcoming death and the suffering that he will endure. Peter fought this and Jesus rebuked him telling him to stop thinking of human things and possibilities not heavenly. Jesus then went on and laid it all out for them, “if you want to follow me, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
And 6 days later he led them up the mountain where we find them today. I can see where they might not want to hear what he has to say. I can see why God might say LISTEN TO HIM to them as one might be predisposed to seek an easier route.
Placing our trust in God is difficult. It can cost us everything we THINK that we need but it will give us exactly what we need to TRULY LIVE. It may call us to behave against the norms of the world, and of our culture including being a public and visible symbol of our faith, of Christ. It calls us to seek those places where the heavenly and the earthly intersect, those thin places where miraculous events occur and things thought impossible become possible. It calls us to live as a beacon of hope defined by our love willing to enter into very public relationships and encounter with the other we meet. It does a lot, I guess all that remains to be seen is what we do.
Thanks be to God.