Being Transfigured

+ A sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on February 14, 2021 +

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6; Mark 9:2-9


Happy Transfiguration Sunday!
Well, did you get all your Transfiguration shopping done before the snow covered our city?
I hope your Transfiguration cards got through the Postal Service backlog.
And I can’t wait to hear what you’re all having for Transfiguration Day dinner.

Ok, so maybe none of that is happening.
But it is Transfiguration Sunday!
Which, really, is such a strange day on our Church calendar.
It’s one of the great festivals of our liturgical year—which is why we would normally dress our churches our special white paraments and why we clergy wear our white vestments, reminiscent of Easter and Christmas.
It’s a special day when we’ll say “alleluia” more than almost any other day of the year.
It’s a puzzling day when we hear a wild story of how Jesus and three of his disciples went up a mountain where they met up with Moses and Elijah as Jesus is transfigured—suddenly made gloriously dazzling, shining like the sun.

But as I was preparing our annual celebration of Transfiguration Sunday, I realized again that I don’t really know what to do with this day.
I don’t know what it means for me to hear that Jesus was transfigured on that mountaintop.
Maybe you don’t either.
I mean, really, how does that affect me?

That’s why I’m glad we always celebrate this holiday on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
It makes Transfiguration a sort of transition, a pivot point in the year when we move from the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany time and into Lent, into the journey toward Holy Week.
Which is basically what is happening in the gospel narrative, too.
This scene is a sort of pivot in the Gospel of Mark when the focus shifts from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his journey on the way to Jerusalem—to the road toward the cross.
And it serves as both a reminder of everything God has done in the past—from Moses to Elijah to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan—and as a preview of the remarkable thing, the culmination ever everything before that God is about to do.
It gives us a glimpse of what we are journeying toward: resurrection.
And really, this is as close as we get to a resurrection scene in Mark’s gospel.
Mark’s version of Easter is different than the other three gospels in that we never see the resurrected Christ.
So, you could say that for Mark, resurrection happens right here in the middle of the gospel—not at the end of the story, but right in the middle of Jesus’ ministry.
It’s a reminder to me that resurrection is not just the final goal, but it’s something that breaks into the middle of everything.
An unexpected and inexplicable shift in reality where God’s glory invades the ordinariness of our everyday.
Where the hope and promise of new and abundant life infiltrates even the gloomiest places of our lives.

I wonder if that’s actually why this event happens when it does in the gospel story.
Perhaps Jesus, knowing what the road ahead would bring, also knew that his disciples needed to see what is possible.
Maybe he knew that they needed this foretaste of resurrection to make it through their journey, make it through to the end of the road where they would find themselves at the top of another mountain, terrified, as their friend and teacher was executed on a cross.
So right in the middle of it all, God breaks into their lives with a stunning vision, a dazzling sign, this glorious presence among them bringing life and strength and hope for what lies ahead.
Maybe Jesus knew that they needed this sign, this reminder to make it through to Easter.

Perhaps that’s what we can take from this text this year, too.
Because, as much as I usually don’t pay all that much attention to Transfiguration Sunday, it’s sure hitting me hard this year.
I’ve said it before, but the past year has seemed like the longest Lent ever.
And here we are, on the cusp of the Lenten season again.
As if we needed another reminder of our mortality.
As if we needed another reminder of our total reliance on God’s grace.
As if we haven’t been setting our sights on Easter Sunday for eleven months now.
It’s now been almost a year of waiting and praying for this pandemic to be over—of waiting and praying for the day when we can gather again in the sanctuary for worship.
And even as we’re closer to the end of this pandemic than we are to the beginning (God willing), even as many in our congregation are getting their vaccines (thank God!), we know that we’re not quite at the end yet.
That we’re still somewhere in the middle of it all.
That we still have a way to journey.
So today I’m thankful that even in the middle of this pandemic, the Transfiguration of our Lord is breaking into our lives, breaking into our new normal, breaking into our gloomy despair with shining life.
It’s a startling chance, a stunning invitation to see again where God is disrupting our lives with glimpses of dazzling glory.
An assurance of God’s presence with us as we journey through these days and weeks ahead.

But perhaps more than a reminder of God’s presence with us, it’s a chance for this Transfiguration to change us, too.
An invitation to listen and follow Christ and to see how it can recreate us into something new.
To see how, as St. Paul reminds us, we are being transformed ourselves into the Body of Christ.
That just as the very human body of Jesus was transfigured to show the glory of God, we are also being transfigured into the same image of Christ so we too can show the glory of God.
That in our own bodies, in our collective actions, in our lives, the light of Christ shines forth showing the love of God for the whole world.
And we are invited to allow this transfiguration to be a pivot point in our own lives where we are assured of who we are as God’s beloved, confident that Christ is traveling with us, and ready to partner with God and each other to help reveal the life changing and world altering power of Christ’s resurrection here and now.

The question, then, becomes how will we respond to this transfiguration?
Well, looking at the examples we’re given, we can see that the disciples were terrified. Peter, James, and John had no idea what to do or say.
“Let us make three dwellings,” Peter suggested, perhaps in an attempt to buy time and figure out what this all meant, how it would change their lives.
They didn’t know how to react and really, I don’t blame them.
This transfiguration is terrifying!
It is meant to change everything.
It is intended to transform our bodies, transform our vision, transform our lives so we can partner with Christ in transforming the world.

After hearing that startling voice from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” the disciples realized that they could now only see Jesus.
Jesus who had brought them to this place, Jesus who had changed before their eyes, Jesus who would lead them on the journey ahead.
They only see Jesus.
And they followed him down the mountain and continued on the way.
The way that would lead to the cross, yes, but then also to the promise of the empty tomb.
The way that would lead them to go out to the whole world proclaiming the life changing good news of Christ.

So, how will we respond, my friends?
How will we allow ourselves to be transfigured, to reflect more and more the glory of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus?
I think that answer depends on who we are individually.
That just as we all inhabit different bodies, we will shine in our own ways.
Just as we all possess different skills and vocations, God will use each of our gifts to reflect Christ’s glory in unique ways.
But when Paul wrote that letter to the Corinthians, he wasn’t worried about how each person would shine by themselves, but how they would work together as the collective body of Christ, building a light beyond what any one of them could do on their own; working together to shine with the brilliance of Christ’s glory.

Last month in Washington, DC, we heard the stunning poet Amanda Gorman give words to the transfiguration that is possible if we, in our common humanity, come together to do what is right. She said:

When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman

On this Transfiguration Sunday, I hope that we are brave enough to see the light of Christ and embrace its message of love and hope for us and for our world.
I hope that we dare to step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, joining together with our fellow siblings as one united Body of Christ.
I hope that we’re brave enough to be that light, to allow ourselves to be transfigured and forever changed into bearers of Christ’s resurrection right in the middle of this weary world.
So that, focused on Christ alone, we are ready, not only to travel together the journey of Lent, we are equipped, not only to endure to the end of this pandemic, but we are ready, willing, and able to shine with the glory of God’s own Son.
To use our bodies, use our congregation, use our whole lives to show where Christ’s resurrection life is breaking into our world—transfiguring death into live and fear into hope.

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