A Glimpse of the Truth

The transfiguration described in the gospel today is an epiphany. An echo, if you will, of the moment the magi stepped into a filthy stable to lay eyes on what so terrified King Herod that he ordered a slaughter to protect his hold on the throne. They knew their calculations were correct, but what they saw wasn’t what they had anticipated.

In today’s gospel, for just a moment, a dazzling, unearthly bright Jesus is revealed, speaking with Moses and Elijah. Now, the gospels are not history or science texts. They are the authors’ attempts to communicate their interactions with the divine. So I imagine that Jesus didn’t physically light up; it just felt like it because the disciples saw – for a split second – who they were following, who they had given everything up for.

They don’t know where his story and theirs, if they stick with him, will go. But they would know the stories of the two men with whom he is in conversation. And Moses and Elijah would have meant a great deal to the first recipients of this gospel.

Moses will – with great help from the Creator – persuade a people that they were not made for slavery. That their God is with them wherever they go and will provide for them. Moses will shepherd them into a covenant with their Creator that includes requirements to be just, to welcome the stranger, and to love their God.

Elijah will persuade the people that they are not fodder for the enriching of a tyrant. That their true benefactor is their Creator. And their Creator is not to be found in dramatic fire, wind, or thunder. No, their God is to be found in the still small voice within. A God who is with them always and everywhere. A God who is greater and more enduring than Kings who sit upon temporal thrones. A God who delights in justice and mercy.

Not ritual sacrifices. 

Moses and Elijah both foreshadow what is to come for the disciples. Both collected and trained up others around them. Both wandered in the wilderness, experienced loss and pain. Both also didn’t complete the journey with their followers. Their followers had to continue without their teacher and guide.

Do we take our cues from Peter and react? Immediately start planning how to cobble together a structure without letting what the truth of what we just saw sink in?

I don’t know about you, but in my mind, Peter already has a tape measure out and he’s ready to go.

He’s so overwhelmed by what he has seen that he imagines that all you have to do to make it tangible and permanent is to clap a frame around it. To trap it in place.

Peter, oh Peter…

You make me cringe with your Labrador like enthusiasm and your lack of reflection.

You make me cringe with your impatience and confidence.

You make me cringe because I see so much of myself in you that I want to curl into a ball.


So, to be clear:

Yocheved’s little boy didn’t get to be Moses of blessed memory without the whole trip through the wilderness.

And we didn’t see that the apple of Mary’s eye was our Savior, until we mocked him, tortured him and nailed him to a tree.

We didn’t do that because we are powerful.

We did it because we were and are – afraid.

And we didn’t see that Mary’s baby boy was the Christ until he returned – wounded and resurrected, in effect God saying, “Nevertheless, I am still with you.”

Clarity comes in flashes.

Glimpses we often don’t understand right away, or ever.

When God speaks in this gospel – so very much like the still small voice that spoke to Elijah – God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Maybe we need to listen.

Maybe when Jesus shows us who he is, we should believe him.

He’s gonna ask us to follow him.

He’s gonna have to go on ahead, and we are going to have to journey on with just the spirit with us.

We cannot see the Christ all the time. We, in our dusty selves can only look to Jesus. Which is a good thing because in our finite, Peter-like way, we can only imagine temporal revolution. Glory on a human scale. When we get too wrapped up in the grandeur of Christus Victor, of the resplendent Messiah we focus on being over others. 

Of leading others to the light rather than being with them.

Our task is to walk alongside Jesus, be with Jesus.

To walk alongside, to be with – our fellow image bearers.

We build fine churches to welcome people in.

We set a careful and beautiful table where all are welcome.

Last Sunday, at the Annual Meeting there was a transfiguration. When the Service and Social Justice board unfurled a paper banner of human silhouettes that spanned the entire perimeter of this nave while Holly and Edna read out the number of persons – our neighbors outside of this congregation aided and accompanied by the work of St. Marks – I saw the people; I felt their presence.

I saw the great cloud of witnesses who were touched by Christ because individuals chose to make sandwiches, pack underwear, made a pledge, attend a vigil, to follow Jesus.

Following Jesus is a revolution.

Not of armies but of hearts.

To quote James Baldwin: “We all know what the answer is; we just don’t like the price.”

I think that’s because God travels way out of our comfort zone.

Later this week on Ash Wednesday we will be marked and told in no uncertain terms that we – no matter what we do or earn or love or change -we are dust and we will die and return to dust.

Let that sink in.

Transfiguration is a glimpse.

Transformation is ongoing.

The clock is ticking.

We had better get to work.