The Transfiguration of Our Lord
3.02.14 Year A
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then 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.’ 5While 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!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 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.’ (Matthew 17:1-9)
This night is about hearing the testimony from others who have stood in the inexpressible presence of God. Moses on the mountain, Jesus, James, John and Peter on the mountain – they all experienced the glory of God and we get to peer in.
The appearance of the glory of God at Mt. Sinai is described as being “like a devouring fire” and “a cloud covering the mountain”, which Moses himself entered into. Moving forward to the day of Jesus and the appearance of the glory of God is found in Jesus himself with his face shining like the sun and his clothes a dazzling white. The Scripture writers give a good effort to paint the scene, but there is certainly much to both of these experiences that we are missing out on.
Last summer a couple of villagers returned from a long weekend of hiking up to Image Lake and beyond, I asked them that perfunctory question, “How was your hike?”. They said that in all their time in the village they had never heard anyone adequately describe the beauty that was up there. It was like a veil had fallen on this side of the lake and all the hikers who had gone before could not speak of such grandeur and awesomeness upon returning to the village. And that is just speaking of the location – the question of “how was your hike” does not allow for the hiker to replay the difficult miles, the wear on the feet, the miracle of the tiniest wildflower, the fear of the wildlife, the relentlessness of the sun or rain, the relief of arrival, the sweet satisfaction of the after-hike meal. Even the best writer among us cannot bring us along, not fully, to the glory there is to behold on such an experience.
The glory of God is greater than the glory of this creation, it cannot and will not be regulated to our vocabulary and it cannot and will not be confined to the tiny box we like to put the Divine Presence of God into.
The transfiguration of Jesus is a glimpse into God’s glory – beyond reason, beyond description, beyond doctrine or denominations – God’s glory came to the mountain top for Moses and all the Israelites travelling with him to witness and God’s glory came to the mountain top to be revealed in Jesus for the disciples to witness.
In all of the drama and revelation of these stories, there is not a lot of action. Contrary to the action packed and commandment giving Scripture readings of the last six weeks, this week the stories of Moses and Jesus simply play out on the mountain top. Moses enters a cloud and stayed there for forty days and forty night. Jesus and the disciples were simply hanging out on the mountain and the disciples ended up falling to the floor in the face of such glory. There is no “go and do” there is no “hurry up and bring forth the kingdom” – tonight, the texts invites us to simply be in the presence of the glory of God.
This week we will distribute the Lenten Devotion book, which is a compilation of writings offered by about thirty village staff. All of the writers this year were prompted by Scripture verses from Matthew’s gospel and they all had to do with prayer. I have had the honor of previewing the book – and a major theme throughout is that of being together. What an unexpected thread to be woven through a book on prayer! Not the intimate, one-on-one portrayal of prayer we often think of…it turns out quite a few references to prayer in the Gospels point to communal prayer and taking the time to dwell with one another and with God long enough to be truly present and really listening.
What kind of God will be found in this kind of stillness and dwelling? The beauty of such encounters is that they are not mediated. I will not be telling you about the God you have encountered, nor will any church doctrine or polity. Your parents’ faith is not the standard in your personal awareness of God’s glory, how do we come to such places of revelation? Through prayer? Through creation? Through glory-gazing? God so splendid, so beautiful that the disciples wanted to set up camp and stay awhile.
Like the majesty of the creation at Image Lake and like the glory of God on the mountain, the faithful practice of prayer is a holy mystery. Words fail us in trying to contain or restrict the power and practice of prayer. Yet dwelling seems to be a common piece to it all – one does not hike to Image Lake, take a quick peek and then run back to the village, there is a dwelling, a simple gift of just being in such beauty for a good long while. So it is with the glory of God, I suppose, that such experiences are not ones we can run away from quickly, Moses stayed for 40 days and nights.
We read these stories from the Living Word of God, which means they do not stop on the page, but our contemporary stories intersect and are defined and shape by the Living Word still today. So, I wonder of us gathered here tonight…does God’s glory continue to appear in this world? Could we be so presumptuous as to claim the glory of God in the experiences of our own earthly lives?
I would like to turn to all of you, and invite you in popcorn style to share a word or a phrase, or a morsel of a time or place or person in which you saw the glory of God revealed to you. *In big moments, in little gestures, in dwelling during holy moments…where or how have you experienced the glory of God?
[at AA meetings, in the body of my paralyzed husband, in prison, visiting my friend in prison, on the sea, closely encountering an elk in the northern Alps, Cloudy Pass, Holden Lake, hugging a homeless man, in the embrace of a friend…]
On God’s mountain we dwell with Jesus who says “do not be afraid”. Just as Moses stayed in God’s cloud of glory for 40 days, we will begin our own 40 day dwelling. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which is the first day of the 40 days of Lent. This holy season is often marked by Christians of all traditions as a time of introspection and discipline, fasting, alms giving and prayer. Perhaps your time of Lent could be marked with such practices as dwelling longer in the presence of God, dwelling with one another in prayer, or seeking out the glory of God in the world around you.
With Jesus we approach God’s glory and it carries us through this life, especially in our least glorious states, it carries us all the way to the cross and into new life.
How good Lord, to simply be here. Amen.