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Transfiguration Sunday B

Transfig….er… what?
(Mark 9:2-10)

by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

It’s not solid, double-blind tested research,
but an experiential hunch of mine
that United Church preachers don’t like preaching Transfiguration.
It`s my hunch because, of all the Sundays in the liturgical year,
this is the one I could almost guarantee I would be asked to preach as pulpit supply.
Now to be fair, as the last Sunday of the Epiphany Season, it’s smart to take it as a day off,
before the fullness of the Lenten Season takes hold,
but I do know that many colleagues would ‘wish me luck’ with Transfiguration.
‘Rather you than me!” they’d say with relief.

Do you wonder why? (You heard the text!)
I think the reason is complicated, and jumbled up.
Ministers worry about what’s going to happen if
a) they stand up and say “It’s in the book, so it must have happened… I hope you can believe it.”
b) they stand up and say “It probably didn’t happen at all, folks, so now what do we do with it?”
With the first option they worry that they are going to offend the intelligence of their listeners with an outmoded appeal to ‘mindless faith’ over ‘reason.’
With the second option, they worry that for those for whom the Bible is truly sacrosanct, saying “it didn’t happen” is going to cause offense, or a crisis of faith, as the house of cards threatens to topple.

So let me see if it’s possible to find a third way forward with this.
Can we come to this text, (to all the texts of Scripture) not looking for proof of scientifically verifiable facts or for literal truth,
– because surely we won’t find them,
for that is not why the Bible was written or continues to exist.

Instead, let’s come to the Biblical texts, seeking for deep truths that speak of the connection
of God’s Word, God’s Gospel, God’s Dream,
with our own lives, here and now.1

In the case of this passage in Mark, this is one of those texts that is meant to dazzle, to inspire.
It is filled with mystery, glory, and light fuelled by imagination.
Not for nothing is this supposed incident in the life of Jesus positioned on the peak of a mountain.
Mountains lift us higher,
give us perspectives not possible from the plain or the valley.
Mountain peaks scratch the canopy of the sky, and pierce the clouds.
They have been, in every culture, every religion,
the place where heaven and earth converse.

It was on a mountaintop in the wilderness
that Moses encountered the awe-full glory of God.
It was from a mountaintop that the Israelites peered into the Promised Land.
It was on this mountaintop that Jesus ‘conversed’ with the prophets, and with God.
It was these stories that contained a deep timeless truth
which spoke to a black man in April 1963 when he proclaimed,
“I am happy.
I have been to the mountaintop … And I’ve seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know,…. as a people,
we will get to the Promised Land.” 2

Mountaintop stories are like this.
They lift us up from the seemingly impractical,
the barely believable, the limits of the literal,
to a place of the Possible, of Destiny, of Hope.
Galvanized, not just by the stirring speech of Martin Luther King,
but by the horrific aftermath, Civil Rights eventually became a reality in the US.

Galvanized, not just by a liminal vision of Jesus shrouded in dazzling glory,
but also by the horrific aftermath on Golgotha,
the people of the Way,
the followers of this Jesus,
have changed the face of the earth
with God’s Dream made flesh, dwelling among us,
filled with grace and timeless truth.

That’s precisely what Marks’ text is supposed to do.
Not to contort, confuse or confound us with its impossibilities,
but to inspire us with its possibilities.

For, you see, “Transfiguration” is not just a mythic event of Jesus’ past,
not just a ‘high and lofty’ holy moment,
ephemeral and essentially beyond us,
but, like everything God does,
it is for us,
and with us,
in our own lives.

For you see, “Transfiguration” – an unnecessarily long, latinate word,
means transformation:
transformation of the ordinary into something
utterly beautiful. 3

Desmond Tutu, who gifted us with wisdom
during our Advent Study of his book God has a Dream,
speaks of transfiguration as
God’s capacity, desire and action to transform
not only the ordinary, but also the ugly,
the impossible, the defeated, chaos, war, hatred, apartheid
into “their glorious opposites.”4

God has been doing transfiguration since the first instant of creation.
The formless chaos of light and energy, has, at the hands of God,
revealed its deep quantum beauty.
The winter landscape that by the heat of the sun and the turning of the planet,
will be transfigured into a pregnant spring, bursting with God’s effulgent beauty.
We are surrounded by evidence of God’s transfigurations,
Scripture is filled with them too, besides this one.

But lest we turn dazzled away and miss the import of this for you and for me,
notice what happens next in this text.
The glow fades, the prophets disappear, the Voice is silent.
Transfigured for a moment,
transformed for a life time,
Jesus comes back down the mountainside,
back down to earth, to the valley,
Where he sets his feet firmly back on the path of ordinary living,
where you and I live.
He comes back down into the messiness of human practicalities,
where injustices, incompleteness, suffering, misunderstanding
and dying happen to him
as they do to all the sons and daughters of the earth.

It is in this life that transfiguration really happens.
Not only on the mountaintops of religious ecstasies,
but more especially in the ordinary, and the ugly of human living.
It is here that God is most at work, and calling us to work alongside God;
as agents and evidence of God’s transformations
of frailty into fidelity, of aging and decay into wisdom,
of touch into blessing, of despair into daring hope,
of injustice and graft into peace with integrity,
of sickness and even death into wholeness and eternity.
We know this, because Jesus, transfigured,
came down and walks among us, full of grace, and timeless truth.


© Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones         Transfiguration Sunday 2012.

1This begs a far lengthier exploration of Christian relationship to its sacred text, one which you can follow in a series of blog posts I shall be adding to BWS throughout Lent and Easter Season.


3 (Feb 19th)

4Tutu, God has a Dream 3-9.

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