Mark 9:2-9   The Transfiguration

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

If you’ve been following the church calendar with me over the past two and a half years we have seen that after Transfiguration Sunday, Ash Wednesday and Lent are sure to follow. It will be an ashless Wednesday for us this year because of the pandemic but there are other options: one is viewing online an Ash Wednesday worship service our denomination has put together, or for our gardeners you might like to plant something instead to remind us that we are earth to earth.

Today’s transfiguration story on the mountaintop and Lenten practices go well together because we know cannot stay on the mountaintop forever, at some point we must come down and walk these lengthening days with Jesus and the way of the cross as he set his face towards Jerusalem.

In reading the transfiguration story again, the disciple I wondered about is Andrew. Where is Andrew? One of the first four disciples, Simon Peter’s brother, and he is absent here on the mountaintop. And Andrew was absent in our lesson last week when the 3 disciples went to Simon’s house. As I look around the screen who is absent this morning? Who have we not seen in a while? So be sure to check on them especially after this winter storm and let them know that they were missed.

The writer of Mark describes an awe-inspiring scene on the mountaintop which was quite terrifying for the three disciples. In Mark’s gospel this scene occurred after Peter had confessed Jesus as Messiah. So the transfiguration story is almost at the middle-point of the gospel between Jesus’ baptism and resurrection. A pivotal moment to be sure.

This story is the proverbial mountaintop experience where the figure of Jesus is transformed. His clothes appear dazzling white like an angel and his whole external appearance changes. The snow yesterday was dazzling white especially when the sun was shining ever so briefly. Imagine Jesus ten thousand times more dazzling. Whiter than snow. This divine manifestation is the light of Christ shining through in all his glory. Rather than a spotlight on Christ, the Light of Life is shining out from within Christ! The light of love is at his core. This is the one who is the Light of the world who shines more brightly than anyone else… more brightly than the greatest of the prophets and Moses the giver of the law. Jesus is the brightest light, fulfilling the law and all the prophecies.

The story of the transfiguration is a manifestation of the Divine in human form: Jesus, Son of God, as Mark identifies him at the outset of his gospel, has claimed power and authority and favor with God and now the attention turns to the disciples.

God speaks to the disciples here and through the Spirit speaks to us today. We are reminded of Jesus’ baptism when God spoke the same words, “This is my beloved son” The words God speaks here are “Listen to Him”. When God speaks we listen. God wants us to listen to Jesus, first and foremost, before we allow any other competing voice or distraction to enter into our lives.

For now the disciples are told to keep quiet about this vision. What they have witnessed in Christ, as divine man, means that Christ has the power to avoid or escape suffering. That is not the message Christ wants to send to his followers. That is not Christ’s mission. In Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection he overcame the world’s evil and the worst they could do to him, death itself. Christ knew there was no escaping the pain and suffering from there on. Only after the resurrection would these epiphanies and theophanies and the transfiguration and words make sense to his disciples.

Peter wanted to pitch tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. It looked like heaven to him. Peter had all his faith heroes in one place, forever and ever amen! But there was more to the story that Peter did not yet understand and Jesus was counting on Peter to be the rock upon which he would build his church.

We catch glimpses of heaven on earth now and then don’t we? No matter how fleeting, we wish they could last forever. The thin place or thin space between heaven and earth is a Celtic teaching where the Celtic Christians saw only a thin veil between heaven and earth.. Such places and times can be epiphanies for us, something we can hold on to when the going gets tough or we doubt or question our faith.

Today we celebrate the last Sunday after the Epiphany but our epiphanies don’t end here. God will continue to reveal God’s self to us in unexpected ways, in ways we may not always understand. In ways we may be afraid to share with anyone else. As we witness to what we have seen and know to be true how might we help others understand the hidden ways of God?

God gifts us all with our own epiphanies but often we don’t know what to do with them. As a community of the beloved we have created space for that. The Spirit of God is alive and that’s good news.

Today we also celebrate our marks of vitality and we’ll mark where we can do better when we take a look at the survey results. This day is a special mark in time for us as Christ’s church as we seek to discern what these marks of vitality mean for us and our mission going forward. We have a second year of the Vital Congregations Initiatve work ahead.

One thing I know for sure is that God’s steadfast love for us endures forever and that God loves you today and every day. For God so loved the world… tha God sent Jesus, son of God, that we might listen to him, follow his ways, and learn from his teachings. Praise God!

On this day when the world celebrates love, let me close with these words from the poet and Irish scholar, John O’Donohue, writing about LOVE,

“There is a lovely idea in the Celtic tradition that if you send out goodness from yourself
or if you share that which is happy or good within you,
it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times.
In the kin-dom (kingdom) of love, there is no competition, there is no possessiveness or control.
The more love you give away, the more love you will have.”

To God be the glory. Hallelujah. Amen.
Sources: Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1

Christian Century, January 27, 2021

New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII