Today is NOT the Feast of the Transfiguration. But we do commemorate the Transfiguration event every year on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. The short answer as to why we do that is because the Season of Epiphany is all about making Jesus known to the world. On the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrated the arrival of the wise men and the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. His baptism was about being made known as the Son of God. The following Sundays were all about making him known to the world through our actions. And today we get a glimpse of the totality of Jesus through the Transfiguration event.
As with most scripture passages, there are a lot of options we could focus on. What is the significance of six days? What is the significance of the mountain? Moses and Elijah are there representing the Law and the Prophets. The desire to remain in that place. The raising of the disciples. All of this and more are embedded in this story. But I want to look at the transfiguration event itself.
What exactly does it mean to be transfigured? At its most basic, to be transfigured is to be changed or transformed. On a personal level, when you get married you are changed and transformed into a husband or wife. When you have your first child, you are transformed into a parent. But that's only a partial explanation because it doesn't get to the depths of what is going on. And if you follow this line of thought too far, you might come to the heretical conclusion that Jesus was transformed, or changed, into God at this event.
The transfiguration story is an apocalyptic story. Thanks to books like “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and the horribly awful “Left Behind” series, many people today have a mistaken idea that “the Apocalypse” is an all-out end-of-the-world destructive event. The actual definition of apocalypse, however, is simply a revealing. An apocalypse, or an apocalyptic event, is simply a pulling back of the curtain, or a lifting of the veil, so that we can see the true nature of something. Toto pulling back the curtain was an apocalyptic event, as it revealed the true nature of the wizard.
One of my commentaries has a great example of the transfiguration. The author recalls a scene overlooking a lake on a bright sunny day. The reflection of sunlight off the water was almost blinding in its brightness. But then a random cloud floated by, overshadowing the people, and removing the glare off the water. In that moment, he says, you could look deep into the water and see the rock formations at the bottom of the lake.
That, I think, is the best explanation of the transfiguration event: a revealing of the true nature and depth of who this person Jesus really is.
All of us here at St. John's have experienced, or are experiencing, our own transfiguration event. We are all being transformed and changed. My family has settled in and are being transformed into easterners. In last week's Wednesday Word I compared the Celebration of New Ministry to a wedding; that wedding is transforming all of us into a new relationship of priest and people. But those changes, those transformations, don't get at the heart of what is going on.
I have mentioned this before, and it is self-evident to anyone who enters here – this place is extremely beautiful. Like the sun shining on the lake, it can sometimes blind us to the point where we can't take it all in. And that's too bad, because sometimes that blinding beauty hides the depth of this parish's true nature.
If you attended the installation, you will recall the moment in the service when I presented a variety of gifts to people who serve in the many ministries that take place here. And you will recall all of those people gathered up here around the altar. That is just a partial glimpse of the depth of this parish. That is a pulling back of the curtain, a revealing of who we really are. That was an apocalyptic moment. That was a transfiguring moment. In that moment, the Holy Spirit overshadowed us and allowed us to see how wonderfully deep we are.
Thursday, and continuing through today, was and is our transfiguration moment. One response to this event is to imitate Peter and say, “It is good for us to be here; let's dwell in this place for ever.” That response, however, is based on the overwhelming beauty of the place and not on its reality.
The reality of Jesus is that he is much more than a beautiful, dazzling bright figure. He is God incarnate. The reality of this place is that we are much more than a dazzlingly beautiful sanctuary. We are living members of the body of Christ.
At the end of today's gospel Jesus and the three disciples come down the mountain. Jesus orders them to tell no one about the event until after the resurrection. And a little later in Matthew, the group is confronted by a man asking that his son be healed from a terrible, self-destructive disease.
Like the disciples, we have come down off the mountain. Like Jesus and the disciples, we are confronted by people needing the healing power of Jesus. Unlike the disciples, we are free to tell the story.
This Epiphany season is all about making Jesus known to the world. Like Jesus, we have been transfigured and both the beauty of this place and its depth have been revealed. And now, like the disciples, we need to come down off the mountain. The question for us all as we move forward is this: How will you proclaim both the beauty and the depth of who we are to the world around us?