Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
On the mountain of his transfiguration, Peter, James, and John learn something you and I already know. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God.
The Greek word used is metamorphothe and is translated as transfigured, yet it comes closer to expressing something English can’t quite convey. It wants to say something like “changed shape and beingness and allness into some other form thereof,” or some other equally awkward and wordy translation. What happened, in other words and in the fullest sense, was a “metamorphosis,” which again is Greek and again has no good analog in English. (Phyllis Tickle, God’s Politics, Sojourner’s Magazine)
So, what happened on that mountain was like the barrier between heaven and earth, the visible and the invisible, being ripped in two. The heart and character of Christ was revealed to be the same heart and the same character as that of the living God. On this holiday weekend dedicated to loving devotion, you could say the transfiguration was Jesus’ Valentine. Jesus took the disciples aside, dropped all pretense and declared his eternal love for them and for us. “You are not alone. I see you,” God says. “I love you. I have always loved you and will never stop loving you.”
St. Paul quoted lyrics of an early Christian hymn, “though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7). This is something like what Jesus revealed on the mountain.
One week before Lent, when, in a normal year we would be sitting down to eat pancakes on ‘Shrove Sunday,’ Mark clarifies the true identity and mission of the Messiah. What an incredible spectacle it was, dazzling to the eye! Yet, apparently, Mark’s gospel does not want us to focus on that. It’s not about what the disciples saw. A bright cloud overshadowed and blinded them. What has been called the cloud of unknowing accompanies the very presence of the living God. It is not penetrable by the human eye, but only by the ear. The disciples could not see but they could hear a voice. A voice speaking from the cloud echoed the command at Jesus’ baptism. It said, “This is my son, the Beloved; and with him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Listen to him. From that moment on, the course of history was set, and, in many ways, the church was born. Although they didn’t know it yet, the peaceful transition of power was set into motion that day, from Jesus to the disciples, and now, to us.
Jesus was transfigured but we are transformed. Our beingness and ‘allness’ is changed. We are born again into Christ. The calculus by which we measure wins and losses in our life has widened. Narrow self-interest is no longer enough. Instead, we cheer at the advance of the mission and purposes of God.
On this last Sunday of Epiphany before the beginning of Lent, we stand once again on the threshold. God invites us to cross over. Resurrection is ours on the other side. Let us bravely step into that unknown future illumined by grace and glimpsed only by the ear. Listen to Jesus.
This Lent our theme is listening. I’d like to highlight for you some of the ways we have prepared for you to do that. This Wednesday @ 7:00 pm, we will gather online for Ash Wednesday worship, and for the all the Wednesdays in Lent we will gather at that time for a six-week prayer project called Be Still, and Know, led by intern Justin Perkins. Each week, we will host a half-hour session that will include a short reflection on the roots of “Christian mindfulness” with the opportunity to learn from the example of different historic figures from the past. Sometime the week after next, I invite you to stop by the church grounds for walking meditation inspired by the stations of the cross as conceived by artist, Mary Button in her series entitled, Refugee Journeys. And finally, we will also let our feet be our prayerful response to hunger in our community through a neighborhood appeal for toiletries, personal care items, and cash donations for our local food pantry, Care for Real.
We must not be like the disciple Peter whose words got in the way of the message on the mountain of Christ’s transfiguration. In this time of division and change we must listen. We must listen more than we speak to heal our country and repair the bond between neighbors. We must speak after listening to transform the dread of this pandemic and the fear of social upheaval into hope for a brighter future. We must listen. Listen and pray. Pray without speaking. Learn to pray without words because, sometimes, our words get in the way of what God may be showing us.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was especially devoted to the Transfigured Christ. Unlike the disciples, Romero understood Christ’s passion; he and the people of El Salvador lived it on a daily basis, caught between a civil war and the state-sponsored terrorism that accompanied it. For Romero, the Transfigured Christ gave him confidence that Jesus will triumph over death and despair. The plight of the poor in El Salvador did not allude God’s attention. In a homily three weeks before his assassination by government forces, Romero said, “The theology of transfiguration is saying that the road of redemption passes through the cross and through Calvary, but that the goal of Christians is beyond history. Not to alienate oneself from history, but rather to give more meaning to history, a definitive meaning.” (Michaela Bruzzese, Sojourners)
Jesus moves from transfiguration to the cross and to resurrection. This is the path we walk by listening. We listen to the living Lord to follow Jesus from his rightful place in glory to an embrace the world God so loves. With eyes wide shut and our ears wide open we step into the unknown through faith. Martin Luther put it this way:
“This life, therefore, is not godliness
but the process of becoming godly,
not health but getting well,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be,
but are on the way.
The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on.
This is not the goal but it is the right road.
At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle,
but everything is being cleansed.”