March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration Sunday
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43aAnd all were astounded at the greatness of God.
It’s an iconic scene from an iconic movie. Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow have travelled throughout the land in search of the Wizard of Oz. They’ve heard he is a whiz of a wiz and they’ve travelled the yellow-brick road, braving poppy fields, wicked witches, and flying monkeys. They’re all in search of something – courage, brains, a new heart, and a way home. And, after they arrive, they meet the great and powerful Oz (twice!) before Toto reveals the secret. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, Oz commands, but it’s too late. Much to our protagonists’ surprise, it’s really just an ordinary man behind the curtain the whole time, just as lost as they are. It’s a shock that brings dismay until they find out that what they’ve needed and wanted, they’ve had all along. The heart, brains, and courage have been there the whole time. If you haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz yet, I’m really sorry for the spoilers. But it’s been 80 years. You’ve had time to watch it.
Okay, so now you’ve got images of that Wizard of Oz in your head? Imagine watching it and having everything go opposite of what they do in the land of Oz, and I think you’ll have and idea of how our gospel reading goes down today. Peter, James, and John are traveling with their friend Jesus, learning, watching him, eat with him, laughing with him, and they travel to this mountain. Here they are, unsuspecting, when the curtain gets torn and they realize that their friend, this remarkable human being, is actually the Son of God. Here he is, the way between the law and prophets, the way of grace, the way of God. A voice commands them to pay attention and listen to Jesus, God revealed behind the curtain of man. Peter realizes what a moment this is and, like all of us, he wants to hang onto that moment. He wants to memorialize it. He wants to build booths, or buildings, for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses on the mountaintop for them to stay in, to commemorate and remember this moment.
But Jesus knows that his work is not mountaintop work. He knows that, like the lion’s courage, the scarecrow’s brain, and the tin man’s heart, where he was meant to be was where he already was before this experience. Instead of proclaiming a new reign, instead of establishing a new empire and claiming that mountaintop for a throne, Jesus comes back down the mountain. His first work off the mountain is a continuation of his work before the mountain – he begins to heal again, to drive away fear, hatred, doubt, and the works of evil.
It is really in the coming down off the mountain that we get a glimpse of who Jesus is. He is a man – able to live, die, befriend, and argue – but he is also God – eternal, holy, and beyond our comprehension. And he is not content to stay on the mountain and rule from on high, but rather he comes down and serves even the lowliest and outcast.
Transfiguration Sunday is, if nothing else, a reminder of the story of the Christian faith. God took on flesh, lived among us, served, loved, healed, even dying a violent death, in order to bring about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is man, yes, but also God. And he came to be a servant to those in pain, isolation, and disease. He came and experienced every moment, every pain and joy, every sorrow and gladness, we might face. He came and shows us a better way to live and be in this world, a way marked not just by duty and law, but marked by love and grace. And, even in his dying, we find that this love, this grace, this life is stronger than sin and even death itself. Transfiguration pulls back the curtain and reveals to us that God knows human life, both the mountain tops and valleys, the highs and lows, and everything in the middle.
What is true and significant for Jesus remains true and significant for us. God is with you and God is not content to remain apart, aloof, or away from your experience. God took on flesh, we call this The Incarnation, and by doing so has declared that, no matter what may come, you are not alone and you are loved. This is the promise of baptism, that you are claimed as a child of God and that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is now your life, death, and resurrection. Through Christ’s victory over the grave, you are given eternal life. This is not from what you’ve earned or done, but what Christ has done for you.
We’re reminded of this in Holy Communion, as well. Christ’s sacrificial love is tangible and real in the bread and wine of communion, which reminds us that we are united in love and, as we leave, we become the bread and wine that God uses to serve others. We journey with Christ to the mountain, witness God’s glory, and then we follow Christ out of these doors to give witness to God’s love in the world – love that looks beyond class, race, language, culture, gender, orientation, status, health, education, or wealth and sees a beloved creation bearing the image of the unimaginable beauty of God. We follow Christ from the mountain, knowing that where we are in the world, wherever we are in the world, with whomever we are in the world, that we have what we need to proclaim and practice God’s love, peace, and justice in the world.
The curtain has been drawn aside. Jesus is revealed as human, but also more than human. He is the Christ, the Redeemer, healer, prophet, preacher, and Savior; God-made-flesh, God-with-us. He travels with us down into the valleys, up into the mountains, and everywhere in between. He journeys with you toward death and leads you to life. Amen.