“Transformations” Colchester Federated Church, February 23, 2020, (Matthew 17:1-9) Transfiguration Sunday

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday where we contemplate the miracle of Jesus on top of a high mountain and his glory revealed to Peter, James, and John.  Jesus was transformed in front of them—his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.  Moses and Elijah appeared on that mountain, talking to Jesus.  A bright cloud overshadowed them.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son whom I dearly love.  I am very pleased with him.  Listen to him!”[1]

The disciples fell on their faces because they were understandably filled with fear and awe.  Peter even offers at one point to build shrines in order to worship and honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus—because what do you do with that kind of religious experience if you’re a humble fisherman from Galilee?  You offer to get to work and build something to remember this holy moment forever.  Though Jesus touches his followers with compassion as they are on the ground contemplating all that they have just experienced, telling them to get up and to not be afraid.  As Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down the mountain Jesus has a strict instruction for them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”[2]

It’s worth wondering how the disciples reacted to that instruction.  Can you imagine being Peter, James, or John and witnessing this miracle on top of a mountain?  You meet Moses and Elijah—two of the most significant religious figures in your tradition.  You see Jesus transformed before your eyes with his face shining and his clothes becoming a brilliant white color.  You hear the voice of God.  And then on the way down the mountain, on the way back to reality, back to life as you know it, back to the world full of hardship and complications—Jesus tells you, “By the way, don’t tell anybody about this vision until I’m raised from the dead.  Cool?  Thanks!”

It’s stressful to hear that instruction even though we’re far removed from the situation because we weren’t there to witness it and because it happened thousands of years ago.  Because when we experience something amazing, don’t we want to shout it from the rooftops sometimes?  And maybe even more so when we’re told not to say anything about it?  If someone tells us that we can have all the cookies on the kitchen counter except the chocolate chip cookie because that’s being saved for later, don’t we now especially want the chocolate chip cookie?  We humans are not always good at waiting.  We’re not good at delayed gratification.  We want instant results and transformations to happen overnight and then to shout it out for all to hear.

Thinking about Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to not tell anybody about the vision until he was raised from the dead reminded me of some of the plot of Lin- Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton.  Alexander Hamilton is depicted as ambitious, impulsive, and passionate.  He’s a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and time and again sought to prove himself.  Whereas Aaron Burr is depicted as careful, calculating, and opportunistic to the point that one has a hard time knowing what he actually believes.

There’s lyrics from the song “Wait for It” that bring this home.  Aaron Burr sings this powerhouse song where he declares, “I am the one thing in life I can control.  I am inimitable.  I am an original.  I’m not falling behind or running late.  I’m not standing still.  I am lying in wait.”  Because Burr was constantly weighing the odds in his political career.  He even switched political parties in an attempt to come to power.  And Alexander Hamilton wearing his heart on his sleeve and being so open with his opinions drove the more reserved Burr crazy.  In the song he goes on to sing softly, “Hamilton’s pace is relentless.  He wastes no time.  What is it like in his shoes?  Hamilton doesn’t hesitate.  He exhibits no restraint.  He takes and he takes and he takes.  And he keeps winning anyway.  He changes the game.  He plays and he raises the stakes.”

It’s this amazing song found within a musical about historical figures in our country that helps us contemplate the conundrum of waiting.  The fact that most of us are not very good at it and waiting doesn’t always bring out our best sides.  The fact that Jesus specifically told his disciples (many times actually in the Gospel according to Mark) to not reveal what they had seen or heard until after his death and resurrection.  To not reveal his glory and shout out his identity as the Son of Man or the Human One depending on the translation.  Jesus told them to wait.  To sit tight.  To not go down that mountain and testify to anyone about that extraordinary vision.  What do we do with this?

Psychology is a fascinating subject and Psychology Today covered this experiment done by Tijana Jokic where 82 people were shut in a room, one at a time, for 7.5 minutes to see how they would react to waiting.  The participants were asked to hand over their electronic devices, watches, and any purses or bags that could contain distracting material.  These folks had already taken an inventory to assess their personality traits before they even got into the room.  The experiment was simple—it was to sit down and wait for the researcher to come back.  The participants were told by an instructor that the researcher needed to go into another room to set up a computerized test.  The rooms were small and contained only a desk and chair, no clock.  After 7.5 minutes the instructor came back into the room and then had the participants fill out their impressions about the experience of time and their emotional reactions during the waiting period that they had just sat through.

Now, let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves how we would react.  We’re told that a computerized test is being set up to complete and we’re left alone in a room for 7.5 minutes with no phone, no book, no clock—nothing but ourselves and our thoughts and a desk and a chair.  The findings are perhaps unsurprising: there’s a relationship between the negative emotions people feel when waiting and how long they estimate the waiting period to have lasted.  We can imagine people overexaggerate and those 7.5 minutes felt more like half an hour.  I can’t believe you kept me waiting and wasted my time!  Think about how tense it feels to be in a doctor’s office where everyone is in that waiting room waiting for an appointment and the doctor may or may not be running behind for the day.  It ends up that the more impulsive people tend to be (just in their personality as human beings), the less relaxed they were while waiting.  Therefore they overestimated how long they actually waited in that room for that experiment.[3]

So it’s not really all that surprising that there’s a relationship between our emotions and the time we wait depending on our personalities.  An analysis offered of this psychological experiment is that during a time of waiting people attend more to time.  Particularly if our waiting situation is a period of uncertainty and we don’t know how long it will last.  If we focus so much on the time and the uncertainty of the moment, it feels as if time passes more slowly as opposed to when we feel entertained and we can be on our phones and not have to be bored, Lord forbid.  People who are more impulsive feel more irritated and overestimated the time spent waiting and maybe that’s because they got bored!  There’s a feeling of people feeling trapped when it’s hard to wait quietly for something to happen especially when we don’t know when.

So we keep this in mind with Jesus and the disciples up on that mountain in our Gospel story this morning.  When Jesus told them not to tell anybody about the vision until he was raised from the dead.  The disciples didn’t know exactly when all of this was to occur.  Jesus predicted his death and resurrection and shared that with the disciples, but it’s not as if the disciples knew the exact date ahead of time.  Instead, Peter, James, and John had to sit on this vision of Jesus transfigured on the mountain with Moses and Elijah beside him and the voice of God coming from a cloud until the time was right to reveal it.  We may wonder if they confided in the other disciples at least or if Peter, James, and John actually didn’t tell another soul as Jesus had instructed.  Either way, it’s a compelling story about a religious experience that must have been so hard to keep quiet.

All of this today can make us think about waiting, about how we feel about waiting.  What does waiting do to us?  How do we react to waiting?  We can contemplate how God’s ways are not our ways and God’s time is not our time.  And wow is that annoying at times!  Transformations can happen overnight.  And other times transformations are a slow process of unfolding.  A process that takes years.  And then we look back at our lives and realize that things at the time didn’t make any sense.  Though now all of a sudden, we realize that things fell into place.  We know why things unfolded as they did and can have gratitude in our hearts that God was beside us through it all.

Waiting, especially waiting for answers or just for things in our lives to get better, is unbelievably difficult.  The disciples certainly experienced that with Jesus over and again, and the same is true of Jesus’ disciples sitting here today.  Lent begins on Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday, the holy season of Lent where we wait with Jesus in the wilderness.  We know the stories and the path forward for Jesus—the path to the wilderness and the holy city and the upper room and the garden and the cross and the tomb and beyond.  And we wait with him and with one another for the new life that just may come.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 17:5, Common English Bible.
[2] Matthew 17:9.
[3] Marc Whittman, Ph.D., “Who is afraid of waiting?” Psychology Today, March 4, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-time/201803/who-is-afraid-waiting