The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain is a strange, mystical experience to us. It is strange not only because it is an illuminating vision of God, but strange because we are modern people who have simplistically demarcated our world into the “natural” and the “supernatural.” We have a truncated view of reality, and stories like the Transfiguration have a way of challenging our limited views of God and of reality. Let’s all think for a moment about the deep significance for us of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
What we see first, of course, is Jesus. Yes, we also see dazzling clothes, the cloud of divine protection, Elijah and Moses. We hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” The Transfiguration account can best be understood as a moment when we see who Christ Jesus really is. What gets transfigured is not Jesus but our perception of Him. Our vision changes; we see Jesus for real. One of the things we see is that Jesus is beloved by God. We could never have seen that down in the valley, never have guessed that He is beloved by anybody. Already He has been misunderstood by His disciples, rejected by His hometown, drained of His power by His neighbors’ scoffing unbelief, and plotted against by the authorities. Even more powerful winds of hell are about to be unleashed. Jesus knows that He “must undergo great suffering and be rejected.” Jesus beloved? Hardly.
But if we see Jesus for real on that mountain, we see ourselves for real, too. The early Christian community would surely have recognized the parallels between themselves and Jesus. If Jesus’ ministry experienced rejection, failure and violence, so did theirs. Down in their own valley, all they could see was their life and hope slipping away. But up on that mountain they could see themselves in Jesus’ light. They could see their own baptismal garments dazzling like the sun, see the cloud of God’s care hovering over them, hear God calling them “beloved.” Once again they could trust the promise that, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
And so it is for us. Sometimes nothing is more discouraging than ministry in the messy middle of things. Trying to speak a word of peace in a war-mad world. Trying to promise hope to a culture that mistrusts what it cannot grasp, that takes no checks, only cold cash. Down in the valley, it is often hard to see how ministry in Jesus’ name—how faith itself, for that matter—can be sustained.
To paraphrase something the Apostle Paul once said, “Either the Lord is with us or we are pathetic fools.” Down in the valley, with our faith buffeted by storms of disregard, doubt and disdain, our eyes can tell us only one thing: we are pathetic fools. But up on the mountain there is another angle of vision. Up there, in the light of Christ, we can see for real.
Interim Pastor Dan Congleton