We’re all hoping for a dramatic change of season any day now, I’m sure. Really. Any day now, please.
Perhaps it might help to know that the seasons change on the church calendar this week. Hmm, no, didn’t warm me up much, either. But they do, with certainty and with a blaze of glory. Literally.
Since Christmas, we’ve been in the season of Epiphany, a time of light and enlightenment, and now we’re moving to Lent, a time of shadows and wondering. The story that wraps up Epiphany is the Transfiguration. It’s told in three of the four gospels and, this year, we’re hearing Luke’s version. The story goes like this.
Jesus takes three of the disciples with him to the top of a mountain. While there, Jesus appears to be transfigured. That is, his appearance is changed and he shines with a dazzling light – with “glory,” Luke says – and Moses and Elijah appear next to him. The disciples want to build three “dwellings” for them, but suddenly there’s a great cloud and a voice is heard saying “this is my son … listen to him.” The disciples are fearful, Jesus is alone with them again, the moment passes and, when they go down the mountain, they don’t tell anyone what happened.
There’s a few bible studies’ worth to unpack there, but you can see right away why this is a good story with which to wrap up Epiphany. It’s the ultimate reveal for “The Son of God:” dazzling light, the voice of God (speaking from a cloud, as God is wont to do on mountain tops) and the appearance of two heavenly figures (Moses and Elijah, no less).
So, in this story is also a moment in which heaven and earth meet. Celtic spirituality refers to this as when the veil is thin between the two, a liminal moment, when an experience of God or heaven is possible. Here, the threshold is Jesus. The disciples witness the earthbound Jesus with the prophets they know to be in heaven. It’s no wonder they wanted to celebrate the moment, keep them there and, perhaps, keep the door open in that place.
But they can’t. They can’t stay on the mountain top. Neither can Jesus or the experience of heaven and God. The dazzling light, the “glory,” has to walk.
So they leave the mountain and, in Luke’s account, there’s a crowd and a boy that Jesus heals. And then Jesus moves on. In fact, the transfiguration story is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry, between the teaching and healing and the events that lead to the cross. Luke will say “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The point is: forward. Forward with Jesus, forward with even more experiences of heaven on earth, more experiences of the power of God.
And that’s why we might want to go back to that moment of transfiguration and wonder if it isn’t something we experience, too. What if we understood this moment of light as not being about a change in appearance and what if it wasn’t just about Jesus? How about a revealing of Jesus as, simply, more Jesus, more of who Jesus really is in heart? And a revealing, a true epiphany for Jesus, but also the disciples and us.
Listen, as God says, to Jesus. If the love of God is in all of us, if Jesus is the Way we follow, we too will find moments of transfiguration, moments of meeting God, moments when the kingdom of heaven is right here. That same light, that “glory,” shines in you. Do you see it?