Often on a Sunday night this time of year at the parsonage, if the Celtics aren’t playing or its not Super Bowl Sunday, David and I will watch a movie. To help us decide what to see, I consult online reviews and then we view 2 or 3 trailers. We compare notes and if we aren’t in agreement – which most times we are -we usually watch what I prefer. 😅
A compelling trailer can make all the difference in whether or not we will go forward with a particular film.
For Peter, James, and John, the Transfiguration is like that – a preview so powerful – that the disciples are compelled to continue to follow Jesus all the way to his death.
Like many of us, when we receive the news that someone we love is going to die, as Peter did six days before going up the mountain with Jesus, his first response is a rebuke – “No! This can’t be happening.”
Peter can’t cope with what Jesus is telling him. It’s the most human reaction in the world. Often when we receive bad news – especially about a loved one’s terminal condition – our first response is denial. “No! This can’t be happening! Surely, there is something more, something different that can be done.”
On the mountain, Jesus meets the struggle the disciples are having in accepting the reality of his death with something more powerful than words. He shows them the overwhelming divine radiance of his being. This is the epiphany of epiphanies, a glimpse of what is to come beyond death: a glimpse of the resurrection.
Kenneth Tanner writes, “For a fleeting moment of ‘eternal now’ the disciples witness the glory of … the “uncreated light” that is waiting to be unveiled everywhere and in every ordinary thing in creation, the light of resurrection.”
Do any of you watch “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS? We usually wait to watch it on Mondays – unless the Celtics are playing. Did you see last week’s episode? It ends with James on a bus going to join the war effort. He has waved goodbye to his friends, Mrs. Hall and Siegfried, and then he pulls out a photo – a reminder of one of his life’s epiphanies – Helen, dressed in dazzling white, and himself — on their wedding day.
I suspect if Peter, James and John could have taken a photo of what they’d seen on that mountain, they would have done it. And if it happened in 2024, they probably would have posted it on social media, too. Instead, focused on Jesus, they lock that precious scene into their hearts as a source of strength and encouragement for what is to come.
This is what epiphanies can do for us. They give us such a compelling glimpse of the Divine Light that when we remember them and draw on their power, we are able to sustain the commitment we need as life’s inevitable trials occur on our paths, like the terminal diagnosis of a loved one or our own.
We don’t often talk about those moments when we glimpse something beyond the ordinary, when for a moment it seems like the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world has dissolved. Perhaps we share our numinous experiences with one or two others. But, for most of us, we don’t go around telling people about our spiritually extraordinary moments, the less-than-scientifically verifiable things we see, perhaps because they are ineffable – beyond words – perhaps out of fear that folks will think we’ve lost our minds, dismissing not only our stories, but dismissing us.
Peter, James, and John, may have been the only people who saw Jesus transfigured on that mountain. But, I suspect many of us have had experiences that defy the normal order of things. And even more people in the ordinary unfolding of life – at threshold moments, sacramental moments, like a wedding day, or at the birth of a child or the death of a loved one – we can experience a radiant love that is so overflowing with grace it touches our spirit at the very core.
As I can attest from my own wedding day, and from officiating more than 350 weddings, when two people are fully present to one another as they exchange vows, united in love’s gaze, it doesn’t matter who else is there. The other people in the room drop away from consciousness as the radiance of love holds the couple together. That kind of grace is so powerful that many married couples can simply look at their wedding photos to rediscover the spark that can get obscured through the everyday and the trying times of a marriage. (Also – It’s fascinating that the bride is usually dressed in some kind of dazzling white.)
Then there’s the experience of birth. The first time that baby is placed in your arms, everything else drops away. Caught up in love’s gaze, an unbreakable bond forms. It is a moment so powerful, that its grace can endure just about anything that follows – even the tweens and teens. (Also – It’s fascinating that a baby at baptism is usually dressed in some kind of dazzling white.)
Getting married and having a child are two common events in life. One example of a rarer type of numinous event is the near death experience. Many who have come close to dying, but do not, report the presence of a radiant light. When they return to consciousness, they are often much more at peace about the idea of death. I know there are some people in this room who’ve experienced this or had a loved one experience it.
Perhaps Jesus did not want his disciples to talk about their mystical experience because he was concerned that they would be misunderstood and belittled. Perhaps he wanted them to keep it to themselves because he knew and hoped that it had potential to grow in meaning and importance within as they accompanied him to his death. It seems he wanted them to know that God’s glorious presence was so magnificently in him and in their relationship with him that they could trust God on the treacherous path to the cross.
Perhaps Jesus hoped the disciples would get the message that his death was not separate from the story of God’s grace pouring through his life; that even his death was a vehicle for God’s grace to pour through all of their lives and all of ours.
For most people, it is unimaginable that something good could come out of the death of a loved one; it is unimaginable that God could be fully present even in suffering and death.
The Transfiguration marks the turning point in the story of Jesus that leads us into the season of his death, the season of Lent.
It is only natural that we resist. We, too, know what is to come – betrayal, judgment, and crucifixion – the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually painful death anyone could endure. Who wants to sign up for that?
And if that was all there was to the story, who would?
But, along the way there is also care, concern, tenderness, forgiveness, surrender, completion, and glimpses of the divine. There is love.
Matt Skinner writes, “The bright light of the Transfiguration affirms life, a light that shines ahead into Lent to keep that season in perspective, never without hope and confidence. This light speaks a promise that God is here. And that God is knowable. God seeks relationship. Because God is life.”
Leading up to the Transfiguration, Jesus teaches us how to live.
Next, he will show us how to die.
And, as it turns out, we will discover that life and death are not two separate realities, but all part of the One, all held in the light and radiance of God.
Throughout the season of Epiphany we seek and find the one who seeks and finds us, God. We meet God in a manger, in the temple, in the stars of the sky, at the mountaintop and in all creation. We discover God’s presence in Epiphany so that we can join with the disciples to listen for God’s voice, not only in the temple or in the beauty of creation, but wherever there is pain, suffering, and death in this world.
The Transfiguration is the trailer, the preview, of what is to come as we journey together through the season of Lent to Easter morning. Remember it and all of your epiphanies. They can give you the strength, confidence, courage, and hope for whatever is ahead for you and for those you love. Amen.