We gather today on special occasion in the life of the church. While we have spent the last month listening to Jesus’ most earthy explanations of the Kingdom, today we see Jesus get a little weird. As liturgical Christians, we have spread the experience of Christ across the seasons, weeks, and days of the Church year.
Christ’s identity as Son of God, faithful teacher, crucified victim, and risen lord are best consumed one at a time rather than all at once.
On different days throughout the year, we remember and pray through occasions in Jesus’ life where his divine and glorious nature shined brightest. These are called Feasts of our Lord. They are the richest parts of Jesus’ life and the most difficult to comprehend.
One day Jesus took Peter, James, and John, the closest of the Apostles away from the rest. He guided them up an unnamed mountain. These three Apostles were among the first called.
They had been following Jesus for a while now.
If we see the Gospel as a drama then this moment in Matthew’s Gospel is the ending of one act and the beginning of the another.
In the first act Jesus is methodically revealing more and more about himself, his identity, and mission. The next act is one that leads to the cross. It is one where the apostles must travel with Jesus through danger, darkness and despair.
The apostles will come face to face with a system of power and violence. Perhaps a world they thought they had left behind with their nets. The world they have made for themselves with Jesus, of following, praying, listening is about to collide with a world of corruption, violence and the dismissal of human dignity.
We are not unfamiliar with such a world.
There is a heaviness to our world right now. So many feel helpless. I read over and over again that there is a growing feeling that nothing matters because nothing changes or only grow worse. Almost half of the country didn’t vote in the last election. Cynicism is gaining a grip on many, especially in my generation.
A few years ago, Pope Francis said: “One of the most serious evils that afflict the world these days is youth unemployment.
Young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them anymore.
They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family?
Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”
What we see is frustration beginning to atrophy into nihilism, the belief that nothing matters.
Maybe we’d better join the Apostles and walk with Jesus up the mountain to witness something.
At the top of the mountain we witness a place of union, where darkness and light swirl around each other. It is a place where Jesus is so clearly God that it overwhelms the Apostles. They behold not a Christ spread out over the liturgical year but the paradox of humanity and divinity all together at once. It seems so obvious that this should be it and there should be no third act.
The drama should end here with Apostles feeling closer to God than ever. They made it. Why go on? Why does it need to go on? The witnesses take in the sight until they cannot and are thrown to the ground. Jesus picks up his friends because they have seen enough.
The Apostles’ perceptions were forever changed. Their rods and cones were permanently reoriented. Rowan Williams writes that the light that flowed from Christ on the mountain, as Eastern tradition states, was not of this world but a direct encounter with the action of God which alters the whole face of creation precisely because it isn’t just another thing in creation.” While we can predict how things will work out, the transfiguration reminds us that God has the last word.
In other words, God is still creating possibilities and fulfilling promises. Even the most entrenched patterns of injustice are susceptible to a fresh in breaking of God’s glory. Williams believes the Apostles are flung to the ground because this realization is too overwhelming.
And then, altogether, they go down the other side of the mountain. As they go, Jesus tells them to hold onto what they witnessed until after he has been crucified and risen from the dead. So as the second act begins, the Apostles hold onto the glory of God they saw on that mountain and follow Jesus toward the cross and a much more difficult world.
Today is a reminder that we are called to be witnesses of God’s glory so that we might be sustained in our walk with Christ.
As we pause in ordinary time, I wonder how you have witnessed such a glory. I wonder what sustains you in your ministry. Maybe you have had an experience of God’s glory that you have kept secret like the Apostles did. Consider sharing it with someone, pass on the light. Go be a witness.
Maybe you feel far away from witnessing that glory. If so, linger here. Pause and bask in God’s glory. Blow on the ember until it is white like the sun. Fan the little flame you have and let it overwhelm you. Because you are needed, that witness is needed. There is a growing population who need you as desperately as ever. They need to know that there is always hope. They need to know that something matters and most of all, they matter. Take this rare chance on the Feast of the Transfiguration to recall what brought you to this church, this town, this very moment. And then what calls you off the mountain. What calls you to the people who need the Christ in you.