Puzzling Over the Transfiguration

I confess I’ve always puzzled over how to bring this particular story alive.
For it’s not as though this is something that happens every day.  In fact, many of us would assert that we’ve never experienced anything quite like this moment in time where a few chosen disciples join Jesus on a mountain top.  Where they witness him in conversation with prominent figures from their faith history. Where they see Jesus’ appearance change in a way that could not be duplicated on earth. And where they hear the very voice of God declaring Jesus’ identity.  It’s no wonder Peter attempts to bring it all back down to earth by offering to build some dwellings for them.  On the other hand, it’s also no wonder Peter wants to capture this moment, hoping to make it last just a little while longer…
I’ve always puzzled over how to bring this story to life. For I, like most of us, don’t spend a lot of time on the mountaintop.  Most days while I won’t puzzle over who Jesus actually IS, I will spend considerable energy trying to see him at work in the world.  And yet, much like those disciples, I have had those moments of being so privileged to see the past meet the present in such a way that the future somehow holds more promise.  Where the light of Jesus is shining but it’s also marked by a kind of cloud of mystery which reminds us this is not of our doing.  Moments when I have, in fact, been able to recognize the hand of God all over them.  Perhaps you have, too.
I saw it on a Sunday a few years back gathered together with a people I would soon come to love.  I was a new pastor among them, and we were sharing together in tracing the congregation’s history.   We had come to a particularly tender period in their timeline.  Now one of the advantages of being brand new is that one can receive such stories without being all caught up in them.  I could simply stand in the midst of them as a learner and listen.  And so I did as from all corners of the room people shared stories — pausing from time to time to express their surprise that others carried the very same memories although from different perspectives.  God’s people laughed and cried together that day.  It occurred to me then that perhaps this had never happened quite like this in this place before…. Where at least this particular piece of their shared past so publicly met the present in a group of God’s own people.  It was clear that there was something particularly Holy going on in that hour. I could sense it in the vulnerable honesty of God’s people then and in the way they cared for one another even across their differences.  And as we moved ahead it was clear that nothing was ever to be the same again.  Jesus was in that place showing us what could be, giving us a glimmer of what would be more fully one day.  There was the light of Jesus’ presence in that hour and yes, there was a kind of cloud of mystery about it as well.
I saw it last week-end as I was privileged to facilitate a healing session for a congregation which had been more recently wounded by struggle and pain, regret and loss.  Again, with great courage, a small group of hurting people sat across from each other and spoke words of truth, revealing their own experience, their own understandings, even their own honest acknowledgement of their own responsibility for their recent pain.  It was a wonder to behold, really, as they witnessed the gifts of God living among and through each other in a way that perhaps they could not have imagined possible.  And yes, again, there was the very light of Jesus in that day and there was a cloud of mystery over it all as well.
And I saw it many years ago the day of my dad’s funeral.  If we are so blessed, every funeral we share in carries these kinds of gifts to sustain us in the time to come.  That was a day when I was fortunate enough to be one who got to stand before those gathered and tell stories.  And to hear the laughter welling up from among us as together we celebrated the gift of this one precious life. That was a day when we shared the bread and wine of Holy Communion — and I remember still what a wonder it was to see so many people from so many places and differing faith homes all gathering at the same table to receive a bit of bread and wine and I remember thinking that one day heaven will look something like that.  That was a day when the organist burst into Handel’s Halleluja Chorus as we followed the casket out to the cemetery.  It was an unexpectedly jubilant sound in that moment and it pointed us to a day far beyond that one which would be untouched by struggle or sorrow or fear.  It was a day when it was apparent who Jesus was and is for us and it is a day I carry still in my heart. For yes it had the light of Jesus and a cloud of mystery all over it.
So again, I always puzzle over how to bring the story of the Transfiguration to life.  And yet, maybe in small ways whenever and wherever the past meets the present and sends us into the future with hope — maybe they do carry something of the light of Jesus and a cloud of mystery with them.  For that is surely what happened on that mountaintop where those disciples first saw Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah.  Where Jesus became the picture of light itself on that first Transfiguration Day.   And where the very clouds themselves remind us that somehow God’s hand was all over it.   What do you think?
  • As I said, I’ve always puzzled over how to make the Transfiguration Story come alive. How about you?  If so, why do you think that is?
  • In the examples I offer above, God’s people are gathered together. What do you make of that?  Do you think such moments occur to us also when we are alone?
  • When have you experienced the light of Jesus and clouds of mystery at the same time? Do they always go together?  Why or why not?

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