Message for Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year C (2/27/2022)
Did you notice that our Gospel from Luke today is, in fact, two stories in one? The mystical event on the mountain summit is followed immediately by the scene back at sea level the very next day. And, not surprisingly on this day we call Transfiguration of Our Lord, the disciples’ mountaintop experience is likely to capture the lion’s share of our attention. Still, that second story is there for a reason.
At the conclusion of his whirlwind tour of Galilee teaching and healing the crowds, Jesus withdraws with a select contingent of his followers and leads them up a mountain to pray. And at elevation, Jesus’ face begins to shine, his clothes dazzle, and he’s suddenly accompanied by two legendary figures of the faith: Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet. Peter, John, and James are exhausted, yet they can’t help but stare. Before their very eyes stands a biblical all-star team, with their rabbi running point. Imagine the sense of wonder at witnessing this trio in all their splendor. “Master,” Peter says, “it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But, Peter’s babbling is cut off by a voice that booms from a cloud: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
The story of the Transfiguration beams with significance, yet it eludes any simple explanation. This is a classic epiphany, a fleeting glimpse of divine glory and a momentary revelation of Jesus’ true and full identity in continuity with the long line of God’s chosen servants. And, no doubt it’s a transcendent experience for the three disciples who have the privilege of being there, but then it’s over. Jesus utters not a word in response to the suggestion that they stay on the summit, but instead leads Peter, John, and James right back down the mountain to a crowd of ordinary people struggling with their demons, and ordinary disciples struggling to exorcise them.
In this way, Luke’s version of the Transfiguration is a microcosm of the life of faith. Maybe some of you can point to a shining moment or two in your life, events that radiated truth and goodness – an eye-opening conversation with a trusted friend or teacher, an instance of undeserved grace, a memorable travel experience, the wisdom of a child. Although brief, such moments can leave a lasting mark, and even if you can’t put your finger on why the experience was so powerful, the memory of it glows like an ember, sustaining you in ordinary, even difficult times.
Then again, maybe you can’t identify a particular mountaintop experience that stays with you through the days and weeks and months and years; maybe you’re more like the nine disciples who miss out entirely on the Transfiguration, yet who follow Jesus anyway, trusting that there’s hope to be found along the way.
After worship today, when we gather for our first-quarter congregational meeting, we’ll take an opportunity to recall and celebrate the ministries of the past year. This year, I framed my annual report with a familiar verse from the New Testament Book of Hebrews: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” But, as I wrote my report in early January, at the height of yet another wave of COVID infections, I thought differently about perseverance. Bear with me as I read you an excerpt: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us….”
Welcome to the third year of 2020. Perseverance is the key word, but these days perseverance feels less like a race and more like being lost at sea. “One day at a time,” we’ve said for so long that we’re bound to lose track of the months. And even at the outset of 2022, uncertainty continues to hang like a storm cloud, waiting to assail us with frustration and disappointment and grief at any moment.
How’s your boat holding up?
I hope you’ll forgive me for extending the metaphor of the storm at sea to our Gospel from Luke today. I wonder if the scene that follows on the heels of the Transfiguration isn’t a little like the storm we’ve weathered these past two years. The cacophony of the crowd, the frightening illness of a young boy, the desperation of his father, and the helplessness of the disciples in their efforts to make a difference – it’s reminiscent of the distress and insecurity and frustration we’ve felt during this unprecedented time. It has felt like being adrift, hasn’t it?
And in light of this metaphor, what meaning might we take from the Transfiguration itself – from the transitory glory revealed to Peter, John, and James, and from our own experiences of transcendence? If our lives are like a storm at sea, I wonder if Transfiguration is like a lighthouse, a beacon to guide us through the wind and waves. As much as we might like to stay safe on the shore – as much as we might like a guarantee of security and stability – pandemic and political discord and international conflict and any number of related stressors have taught us that life can’t promise calm seas. But, the promise of the gospel is that Christ is the reflection of God’s own heart, beaming with grace and steadfast love as a signal to direct us through the gale.
Friends, if you’re beleaguered by the storm, let the Transfiguration be a story to buoy you. Let it be a memory of your ancestors in the faith, of Moses and Elijah, of Peter, John, and James, and of the multitude of disciples who’ve borne witness to God’s redemption in generations past. And so, let Transfiguration be a light to guide your way again today.
Liturgy © 2022 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
Liturgy © True Vine Music (TrueVinemusic.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.
“King of My Heart”; text and music: John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan. © Meaux Jeaux Music / Raucous Ruckus Publishing / Sarah McMillan Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License #11177466.
“Shine, Jesus, Shine”; text and music: Graham Kendrick, b. 1950; text and music © 1987 Make Way Music, admin. Music Services in the Western Hemisphere. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
“Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying”; text and music: Ken Medema, b. 1943; © 1973 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
“We All Bow Down”; Lenny LeBlanc; © 2002 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music, David C Cook)), LenSongs Publishing (Admin. by LenSongs Publishing, Inc.). All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License # 11177466.
“Take, Oh, Take Me As I Am”; text and music: John Bell, b. 1949; texts and music © 1995 Iona Community, admin. GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
“Shout to the Lord”; Darlene Zschech; © 1993 Wondrous Worship (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.). All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License # 11177466.