“Heavenly Splendor” Colchester Federated Church, February 27, 2022, (Luke 9:28-43a) Transfiguration Sunday

Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  We make the journey with Jesus up the mountain to pray.  Jesus brought Peter, John, and James to be present with him in this moment apart from the needs of the crowds and the world below.  As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed and the clothes that he was wearing flashed white like lightning.  Moses and Elijah appear, and speak to Jesus.  Peter, John, and James are overcome by this miraculous moment and become sleepy.  Though they manage to stay awake long enough to see and begin to understand Jesus’ glory. 

As Moses and Elijah prepare to leave, Peter comes to himself and makes a proposal to Jesus, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”[1]  Peter can’t help but get practical in this transformative moment when practicality and logic have flown out the window.  Peter is still speaking and coming up with his plan to respond to this miracle when suddenly a cloud overshadows all of them.  So much for those mortal plans.  As they enter the cloud, they are overcome with awe (Luke tells us) and then those present up on that mountain hear a voice, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”[2]  After this moment of heavenly splendor with Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Moses and Elijah and the voice from that cloud—Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down the mountain and a large crowd meets them.  Jesus gets right back to work healing a child in need.

Transfiguration Sunday is a hopeful Sunday.  We celebrate this day as the Sunday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  It’s often celebrated with an all-night vigil in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is one of their 12 Great Feasts.  Because for Eastern Christians, Christ on the mountain represents deified humanity.  The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ cements the belief that humans were created in the divine image of God and are part of God’s good creation.  Humans are most human when we are united with God—and that unification is shown outwardly when Jesus is bathed in heavenly light on top of Mt. Tabor.  The Transfiguration is one of the best Biblical stories to hold up the inherent goodness and worth of humanity.

Because the imagery in the Transfiguration is truly remarkable.  Light as a literary metaphor can mean knowledge, prosperity, or a sphere of the Divine.  We hear Biblical phrases like, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” or we hear Jesus declaring, “I am the light of the world.”  The Transfiguration as literature alone points to the holiness of humanity, to the divine light of God found within all of us.[3]  In fact, theologian Scot McKnight argues, “The Transfiguration is one of those moments when a full disclosure of life’s mystery bursts open, brushes up against us, and reminds us that ‘all is elsewhere’ . . . What we see in Jesus’ transfiguration is not so much his deity, but the glorification of his humanity—what all humans really and potentially are.”[4]  We all have the potential for transformation and we are those dazzling figures in light basking in the presence of God right now.  What if this story is about how God sees humanity in the present?

This week our hearts are heavy as we witnessed Russia launch attacks on Ukraine.  Russian forces bombarded cities, towns, and villages.  Innocent civilians caught in the middle of this violence attempted to flee.  World leaders are left to consider what actions to take to help the people of Ukraine and stop this violence as the situation on the ground continues to unfold and may unfold for some time.  I am no expert on international affairs, though I believe that Christians are called at minimum to pray for peace.  The price of war and the consequences of war for generations of people has such a high cost.  History has taught us this painful lesson time and again. 

Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the Prince of Peace—a teacher who taught “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”[5]  Or we could turn to the Prophet Isaiah, “He [God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”[6]  That is the hope.  That is the prayer.  Prayer does not magically solve the problems of the world, but prayer itself is an act of love.  It’s a place to start when we see people in pain.  It’s one small way to lift up to God the divine humanity of one another.  We pray for the people of Ukraine.

 On this Transfiguration Sunday we can be reminded that every single human being has inherent worth and dignity.  We remember this on a week where we turned on the news or opened our newspapers and could see before us the consequences of the strong bullying those deemed to be weak.  We see the consequences of fragile egos and thinking that might makes right.  How do we as Christians have our Bibles in one hand and our newspapers in the other and make sense of difficult events?  If we consider the Transfiguration as just a one-off event where Jesus’ true nature is shown and don’t consider the possible implications for humanity, that may not be helpful.  What if we understood this story as the revelation that we are created in the image of God?  We are part of God’s good creation.  We are our best selves when we are united with God.  Perhaps the Transfiguration reveals how God sees us—as people who also embody heavenly splendor.  As the Psalmist declares, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”[7]  Let this knowledge be the lens we use when we see the suffering of God’s beloved people the world over.

 In the end, it was author Marianne Williamson who once wrote the most glorious reflection about who we are as children of God.  Her beautiful reflection deserves quoting in full— “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”[8]  Friends, let us make manifest the glory of God that is within us already.  Let us shine our own light.  Let us pray for peace for all of God’s children.  Let us remember the dignity and worth of every human being created in the image and likeness of God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 9:33, CEB.
[2] Luke 9:35, CEB.
[3] James Rowe Adams, “Light” in The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors: From Literal to Literary, 178-180.
[4] Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 259-260 and 261.
[5] Matthew 5:9, NRSV.
[6] Isaiah 2:4, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 8:4-5, NRSV.
[8] Marianne Williamson Quote as found on Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/928-our-deepest-fear-is-not-that-we-are-inadequate-our

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash