But last night I looked at this again and decided on another focus. I want us to fix our attention on two things: God’s instructions to “listen to Jesus,” and the path that Jesus takes down the mountain: what occurs afterward.
This is “transfiguration Sunday,” it is the last glimpse of power and glory before we give ourselves a 40 day hiatus from. It is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, when we celebrate the light of Christ before the seasonal “dark night of the soul” that is lent. This rhythm is important, because it reflects the spiritual life.
After this event we read about today, Jesus instructs his disciples to tell no one of it, and then plunges down the mountain to be met by disciples and a “faithless generation” that seems to frustrate and fatigue him.
Seasonally and spiritually, we are oftentimes led away from our mountaintop experiences into the valleys of darkness. Sometimes when I have had memorable and profound spiritual awakenings, the days that follow are often mundane and grey. I begin to experience the dull ache for a return to the mountaintop because by comparison, it is fleeting.
Annie Dillard notes: "The question from agnosticism is `Who turned on the lights?' The question from faith is `Whatever for?'" The mountaintop's holy light was meant not to dazzle or overwhelm, but to empower and set free. It was intended to aid those first disciples in putting into perspective Jesus' teachings about carrying one's cross, and suffering and death. It was meant to light the way of their journey with him to the cross and beyond. It enabled them to see in the dark by giving them the tools of night vision. Then they could rise at his command, like Lazarus, and pursue the fullness of life without fear.
Sometimes the light comes before the darkness in order to help us remember hope and freedom.
Mother Theresa started her career among the poor with an ecstatic, connected experience of God, and then her journals show that for the rest of her life she did not hear another word from God. She called Christ “the Silent One.”
As the Hebrew people marched across the Red Sea, with God’s power and glory abounding, could they imagine that they were embarking on a 40 year journey through the wilderness when many of them would begin to pine away for the “good ol’ days” of slavery?
The mountaintop is real, but so is the valley. There are many shadows for us to confront, and many dark places to reach with the message of light and goodness and love and forgiveness.
But we don’t begin work on others before we begin work on ourselves. God says to the disciples, “Listen to him,” and to listen to Jesus is to be changed by Jesus.
Listening to him involves us confronting our fears. Are we afraid to live our lives the way that he perceives is possible in us?
When we open our hearts to the transforming, transfiguring love of Christ, we’re blinded by the light—when we recover from this life changing event, it oftentimes means that we may find love in our heart for the very people we THOUGHT God hates.
Saul knew with all his heart that God hated the Christians. The scriptures tell us that he held the coats of those who stoned the early Christian martyrs. He was right there cheering them on, and probably even participated.
Then Christ shows up, blinds him with a vision of love he can’t quite wrap his mind around, then when the scales fall from his eyes, he loves Christ so much that he ends up finding him in groups of people that the early Christians didn’t even imagine could be possible! Do you recognize this?!
Are we ready and willing to be changed by and then bear the transforming power of Christ in the world? I’m not talking about Christ’s blinding power changing other people—I’m talking about that blinding power changing you!!!! And me!!!!
We don’t have any business saying someone else should be changed and healed and transformed by God until we step up to the plate and take a swing at what that means for us---for our rigid notions and our usual habits and our sacred cows. God smashes those things up and makes them into ashes and smears them on our face.
That’s what we’ll do this Wednesday—swallow our own finitude and accept God’s gracious everlastingness. Grace lasts forever—walls crumble!!!!!
CS Lewis writes that God makes us perfect, whether we like it or not. God doesn’t let us just make half changes. I find a good many people have been bothered by what I said in the previous chapter about Our Lord's words, `Be ye perfect.' Some people seem to think this means 'Unless you are perfect, I will not help you'; and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant 'The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.'
Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother-at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took an ell.
Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.
That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake; He says, 'if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect-until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'
So, may we go headlong into Lent like the disciples follow Christ down from the mountain of Transfiguration.
May we understand that walking along with this man means that we will be perfected in him and by him and through him.
May the light of the transfiguration un-blind our eyes to the power and presence of Christ even in what seem like trying times and dark times.
May we hold the light of those times in our own experience when we have felt God closest to us as a powerful moment that compels us to charge into the valleys of darkness unwavering from our master’s footprints.
And may we begin this journey here, at the table, where the transfigured Christ meets us in the bread and wine that we believe is transfigured into Christ’s body and blood given for all of us.