The Reverend George C. Wong
The Feast of the Transfiguration
August 6, 2017
The Church of the Saviour
I want to walk a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.
The words of our sequence hymn express the desire of countless faithful over the ages. You can imagine us standing beside a long line of the faithful who have come before. First, in line were Peter, James and John who literally walked in Jesus’ footsteps. Glimpsing Jesus from their fishing boat, seeing that he was like no other man to walk the earth, they cast down their precious nets to follow Jesus and become fishers of men.
Their decision to follow Jesus catapulted three fishermen from a simple routine to a life of constant activity. Jesus sought out people in every nook and cranny: in the streets, at wedding banquets, at the temple and in their homes. Jesus met people where they were and as they were. He did not shy away from the hard and earthly lives of the people of villages and the countryside who struggled daily.
Jesus exhibited non-stop compassion to those who were in need; what gave him the strength to do this. There was something about this man that was different. The disciples had to have suspected there was more to Jesus that they had not seen yet—something that explained his ability to do so much for people. Jesus has just fed over 5,000 people with a couple of table scraps. They knew Jesus was not just a run of the mill rabbi; he was no ordinary holy man. Certainly, there was a transcendent side of him, a side far beyond the ordinary, the earthbound.
Hebrew scripture would have colored their view. The Torah paints a picture of God whose brightness is beyond all compare. As observant Jews, Peter, James and John would have known well the story of Moses. They would know that when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, that the mere reflection of Moses’ face was enough to strike fear in people. If Jesus was of the Father, would he ever share that powerfully illuminated side of himself.
They wanted to see not just the day-to-day Jesus, they wanted to see the Jesus who was shrouded in pure light: they wanted to see the brightness of God.
Maybe it was now time for Jesus to share a side he had never shown them before. Isn’t it the case that sometimes we wait to show the very deepest parts of ourselves with those we love—but only when the time and circumstances are right. Maybe the disciples needed encouragement at this point. We can’t know for sure why Jesus decided to reveal himself so on the day of the transfiguration.
Jesus takes Peter, John and James hiking up the mountain side. The crisp mountain can work wonders and offered them a needed respite from the din of constant requests from the growing crowds clamoring for attention and begging for help. They stop for a drink at a cistern holding crisp rainwater, and take it all in.
Jesus takes advantage of rare peace and quiet to pray. In a split second, Jesus’s face and clothes are a blinding flash of light. Guys, you wanted to see the brightness of God. And, here I am.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, describes Peter, James and John on that day as “eyewitnesses to the majesty of God”; yet, inexplicably, the three manage to nap right at this moment. When they do wake up, they run around rambling, while trying to make sense of the mind-blowing events that have just transpired. They want to build a house, a temple for him so Jesus can stay. Then, a cloud appears and a voice says: “This is my Son, my chosen one, Listen to him.”
One big-time mystery is solved: that is, did Jesus have a side of him that glimmered like the sun? But as sometimes is the case when we learn about someone deeply, that revelation begged new questions. Having seen the illuminated side of Jesus, the disciples must have wondered what was next? Would Jesus flip back and forth. Would he go be like a kind of divine Clarke Kent figure, who would be normal Jesus and then emerge as the illuminated Jesus in the blink of an eye?
Some things would remain questions about Jesus. We still wrestle with the idea of the incarnation today. God becoming man is a mind-bending concept. Some things like the transfiguration are best experienced, not picked apart and dissected.
Peter, James and John were first-hand witnesses to the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountaintop. We won’t have a first-hand person experience of seeing Jesus transfigured in front of our eyes. But that does not mean that we do not have experiences that are powerful enough to jolt us awake from a slumber. For instance, sometimes, when we are with those we care about, we are able to see them light up brightly right before our eyes.
I remember this kind of experience from my second year of seminary. In seminary, you are with colleagues every day for class, chapel, meals, studying and service projects-- those demands of the seminary and the challenges of being ordained in life were heavy. I was bone tired and was not seeing a lot of light in myself or others. But on this day, a good friend preached for the first time at the chapel service. In her words and in her face, I saw a light and joy radiate from her in a way that was astounding. She was still completely herself but a bright side shone out from her that could only be the reflection of Jesus.
I remember this well because when we are doing what we are called to do, like my friend, then we often reflect the light of Jesus.
The light of Jesus infuses the world in so many ways. In:
The bright sun and cool rain mingled
A friend retelling a long-forgotten story
A Mozart sonata or a Dave Brubeck solo
The smell of a soufflé baking
A palette of poetry that amuses
The ruffle of a baptismal gown
In these things and so many ways that speak to each of us, we glimpse the shining God, the God who has blazed brightly since the beginning of time and creation.
It can sometimes hard to see illuminated side of ourselves, or of others, or in the world around us. Like the disciples, we wait, we hope, we want to walk with Jesus and look on his face.
Yes, we want to walk as children of the light, we want to follow Jesus.
And, yes, we can rest assured that Jesus will meet us where we are, and shine in our hearts.