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Last Sunday after Epiphany, February 15, 2015

I have had more two transfigurations in my life, probably more than that, but these are two biggies. The first one was my admission of powerlessness over food and my acknowledgment that I had an eating disorder. The second one was when the Holy Spirit pushed me in the back and sent me to seminary before I went through the selection process. Like today’s story, these transfigurations revealed Jesus to me in a very big way, and I had to change. Part of me wanted to stay the same. I wanted to eat what I wanted when I wanted to cover up uncomfortable emotions, but part of me wanted help for my disease. And I got it. I was unalterably changed. I found that Jesus could be trusted, not just believed in but trusted, to help me eat in a way that put me in recovery from my eating problems. God appeared and I changed.

In a way that event led to my next transfiguration. I decided I wanted to tell people about a God who could be trusted to help in a very intimate way with what seemed a very small thing when ranged against the huge problems of the world. So I let my desire to become a priest become conscious. I wanted to follow the process as stated by the diocese of Atlanta, but the Holy Spirit trumped that. I was vulnerable. I was scared, but I was excited about the possibilities all the same.

Transfigurations mean change. At the same time we are open to it and want to stay safe in our own carefully constructed patterns of life (David J. Lose). Jesus’ disciples certainly experienced that reality up on the mountain. They went with Jesus, perhaps expecting something to happen, because mountains were places where God revealed Godself to God’s people, such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai Mark, who has Jesus insisting that his identity be kept secret, suddenly decides to reveal Jesus in a big way with big visuals and special effects.

First there is the dazzling white of Jesus’ clothes. Jesus had never looked like that to them before. Jesus was just Jesus, someone like them, who taught and preached and healed. Jesus was their rabbi and they followed him around, learning and sometimes participating in Jesus’ signs and wonders. But this was certainly a God moment, revealing the glory that Jesus possessed, the divine glory that he gave up to be with us. Though this was a promising sign of their rabbi’s power, the disciples were terrified, just as anyone would be, looking upon a display like that.

Then there is the appearance of Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the Prophets, talking with Jesus. The great figures of Hebrew spirituality, who had experienced their own visions of God came to converse with Jesus. Mark’s gospel doesn’t tell us what they talked about, but it was obvious that Jesus exceeded them in power and glory. He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets that God had promised. He was truly the Messiah, which Peter had confessed only six days earlier.

The disciples don’t know what to say, so Peter talks about building booths for the three figures. It is perhaps a way to preserve the moment, to preserve the image of Jesus that they want for themselves, or it has been suggested that perhaps building the booths is a way to keep everything safe, to change nothing, to preserve the present as the whole reality of Jesus (Karoline Lewis).

Nobody answers Peter, and we then get the visual of the cloud descending on them. How frightening for them. And God’s voice comes out of the cloud: This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him. At Jesus’ baptism God revealed to him privately that he was the Beloved, but now God is revealing it publically, at least to a few. God is insistent in these words that the further action to proceed from these visual images is not to concentrate on the seeing but on the listening (L. Roger Owens). The disciples are to listen to Jesus.

And suddenly, they are back in their real world. Only Jesus is there. And they think, what are we to listen to, even though in their heart of hearts they know and don’t want anything to do with it. There world is about to change. Their picture of the Messiah is about to change. When Peter confessed Jesus as Messiah, he did not know what he was talking about. He got the name right but the definition wrong. He still thought of a conquering hero. But Jesus told them that the Son of Man had to suffer and be killed before he was raised on the third day. The disciples didn’t want anything to do with suffering and death for their Messiah or for themselves, and Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus was adamant, about his future and about the future of any of his followers. The way to the glory they wanted to experience was the way of suffering. Jesus’ followers had to deny themselves and pick up their cross. Beside themselves with fear, Jesus’ followers did not understand. And beyond that, they did not understand about the resurrection. They talked about that coming down from the mountain. How could they understand? They had no framework for comprehending it.

The Transfiguration is one of the ultimate revelations of Jesus, his mission and his message in Mark’s gospel. The first was his baptism when God’s voice came from and called him beloved; and the other is the man sitting at the empty tomb telling the women Jesus had been raised. All of these transfigurations mean radical change for the people of God – a new mission, divine revelation and the victory over death. Like me ultimately, these changes were exciting prospects when they knew the whole story, but in the beginning they were either puzzled or terrified and they wanted to stay where they were.

We need transfiguration. We need to be shown how Jesus is with us in our own lives. We need the reality of holy revelation. We need to see a joining of heaven and earth. It may be hard to see the transfigurations we have because they are likely to be more subtle than the one we see today, but God will still reveal Jesus in his glory. Remember, that the message of the transfiguration was to listen to Jesus, God’s beloved Son. To increase our likelihood of listening to Jesus, we can read the Bible, we can meditate. We can listen for the voice of God in our neighbors. We would like for all of this to be clear, but faith is more of an experience of a cloud covering than of brilliant visual effects (L. Roger Owens). We only see one step at a time and then sometimes uncertainly.

We need to experience Jesus’ message in the transfiguration. We cannot avoid the suffering inherent in Jesus’ messiahship to get to the glory. The path goes through suffering. We would rather not have that, but all of us have experienced it in one form or another. Like the disciples, we would rather build a tent and stay where we are in a place that we consider safe. But we can’t.

Think back to the times you have experienced transfiguration. You have heard God speaking to you in some way and you knew Jesus was with you. It may be a very small change or a very large one that God was asking you to make, but it was certainly of God. We may all be a bit fuzzy about this – we live our faith lives mostly in a cloud after all – but if we can’t see anything, we need to look back and remember and look forward with anticipation.

Transfiguration experiences are not forever; all too soon we come back into the valley that is normal life. But we have been transported by our experience into a new normal, a normal that is closer to God, a normal that strengthens our discipleship even amid the fear we might feel. Look for the transfigurations in your life. Experience them with wonder and awe and listen to Jesus.


     - Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
David Lose, “Transfiguration B: There Is No Plan, In the Meantime, Blog Post, Feb. 9, 2015
Karoline Lewis, “Why We Need the Transfiguration”, Dear Working Preacher, Blog Post, Feb. 8, 2015
L. Roger Owens, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 256
Ibid., p. 254