Matthew 17: 1-9
Epiphany is finally coming to a close. It’s been a longer Epiphany season because Easter is later this year than in most years all based on the lunar calendar. The season of Epiphany began with a bright star in the sky leading the magi to Jesus and the epiphany of who this tiny little guy was, and then we hear stories of healing and hope during Jesus’ ministry. Epiphany always ends with the transfiguration, another revelation about Jesus and a time when light plays a large factor in the story. Hear now the story of Jesus’ transfiguration from the Gospel of Matthew the 17th chapter.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is a real head shaking, eye rubbing moment in the lives of Peter, James and John! Jesus takes them up a mountain, apart, by themselves. We so often see this, when Jesus wants to get a little R & R or some think time or to be in prayer, he’ll separate himself and a few of his disciples from the daily grind just so that he could take some time to be at peace. But this time was clearly different than the other times. His purpose was more than just snooze and reflection time. No sooner had they reached the top then something really very unusual happened, an epiphany!
Jesus transfigured; his appearance changed right before their very eyes into dazzling white clothes, whiter than any white possible than you can imagine and probably there was an aura around Jesus that simple words can’t even describe. And if that wasn’t enough with Jesus were the prophets Elijah and Moses from of old. Some scholars equate Jesus’ transfiguration to the revelation of the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai when it was enveloped with thick smoke making the sound of trumpets blasting. The Lord summoned Moses to the top and God gave to him strict commands to safeguard the Israelites as a people. This too was another sign of God’s benevolent grace.
So upon seeing this Peter tries to engage Jesus in conversation, saying that he would build three little huts for them. One for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. As if they could contain them! Silly Peter, he just didn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say, he and the others were very afraid of what was happening in front of their very eyes. I think we would be unnerved too, perhaps even rendered speechless, if such a vision happened to us, I know that I would be speechless.
And then, a familiar voice broke through this mystical experience much like when Jesus was baptized, ‘This is my Son the beloved, I am pleased with him so listen to him.” And they fell to the ground, dumbstruck and afraid. God actually spoke also to Peter, James and John. God breaks into the world of human existence and reveals to them what had been hidden from them, or what they failed to understand about Jesus. It is here that Jesus shows his most vulnerable self to his friends. This is who I am! I am God’s son.
I am God’s beloved son and you must listen to me if you are to find a way to live into God’s realm. But you know the disciples still had questions, we know that because they continue to ask them throughout the Gospel. Even though they had been to the mountaintop with Jesus and had seen an indescribable vision, and had been consoled by their friend, when they returned to the trenches of life, they had questions.
I think for many of us who have been to the mountain top and have seen or experienced something beyond our wildest imagination, like our friend Peter, we just don’t know what to say. Reasoned thought takes a vacation and speech goes on hiatus. We just know that we have been dazzled by the divine light and things are different. We’ve had a ‘God moment’, a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment and trying to describe it is like trying to describe what existentialism is to a six year old. It ain’t gonna happen folks!
Now those moments are wonderful, don’t get me wrong and we try to describe them to the best of our ability. It’s just that mountain top highs eventually come to and end. And coming down the mountain is rough terrain. It’s here that we realize life is not lived in the highlands but is really carefully played out in the wadi, the dry riverbeds of our living. And, so, now what?
It is here, this point of reference from high to low that babies cry from colic, the bills pile up far too high, the dishes remain dirty in the sink, the homeless sleep in cardboard boxes under I 95, and the elderly are forgotten or have forgotten who they were. It is here that we feel we are in dead end jobs, or less than thrilling relationships, or stuck in a game of boredom that takes up way too much of your waking day and so you choose sleep over wakefulness.
We know these circumstances all too well because it is here where our tents are pitched most of the time. God mostly doesn’t appear to us in spectacular ways to razzle dazzle us; in fact it is sometimes difficult to see where God is lurking at all in these places. The razzle has tarnished and the dazzle faded away.
And yet, Epiphany happens around us. When we are in the valley we are not void of light, we need not suffocate from the lack of spiritual air. We have access to that light of Christ because that is the gift of the dazzling white of the transfiguration. Christ’s light is now within you. The key is to live into your faith, which is to live mindfully in the knowledge of God’s mercy and love amidst the disappointments and every day moments of our days. To live mindfully is to each moment, open the gift of Christ revealed, remembering the dazzling light is within.
Just because we cannot feel that ‘Rocky Mountain High’ does not mean that we must stop from trying. Trying is essential, it is what our faith is all about and we do that by living each moment intentionally so that we can remember the light that dazzled from before and the peace and assurance that was revealed to us. This is our motivation.
To live mindfully is to live with the transfiguration message in your heart with the light guiding you step by step. It is awareness of all that you are doing and for what and who’s purpose. It is purposefully engaging each moment the highs and the lows, the lights and the darks, the razzle-dazzle and the dreary. It is noticing the crocus’ pop their yellow and purple heads out (I promise it will happen); it is hearing a child sound out a word for the first time and the seeing the joy of victory on her face when she understands the words she has just sounded out. It’s not scratching your head and saying ‘now what’? It is confidently saying ‘bring it on’!
It is taking note of the quotidian moments of our days and recognizing them, not for what they are, but what they can be. There are plenty of mountain top experiences in the trenches if we have the eyes, heart and awareness with which to see them.
In her book, “An Altar in the World” Barbara Brown Taylor talks about her parish ministry, she was an Episcopal priest for 15 years in the parish and was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in 1996. She talks about leaving this very effective ministry and becoming a professor at Piedmont College and how she had to find a different kind of joy in her work.
She writes, “…I…set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven – one more patch of ordinary earth with ladder marks on it – where the divine traffic is heavy when I notice it and even when I do not. I can see it for once, instead of walking right past it, maybe even setting a stone or saying a blessing before I move on to wherever I am due next.”
Taylor had plenty mountaintop experiences while she was in the church but she chose to dwell somewhere else and look for God in unexpected places. What she is saying is be open to those times and places where the ‘divine traffic is heavy’. Stop the frenetic activity of ‘making God happen’ and just ‘let God happen’. “Bidden or not, God is present”. That is so reassuring to me and I hope to you. Transfiguration light happens!
Changed and transformed by God in human encounters, that’s where we will find our greatest and highest highs, if we look. The summit of the mountain comes to us in small and unexpected ways, if we are open. God really is in the details of our life and not some nebulous entity hovering over us, if we look.
Look and see the transfiguration light that each and every moment of your day affords you and then let me know how it was at the top!