Transfiguration of the Lord
Vision from the Valley, Pastor Kinsey
If you’ve read your bible, you know it’s full of many, many different styles of writing, and has many authors. The word, Bible, comes from the Latin, biblia, meaning, collection of little books, or library of books. It’s not pretending to be homogenous, though some have tried to portray it as such! So, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, it has a little something for everyone. The bad news is, if you’re looking for one concise, consistent, cogent argument, from cover to cover, you won’t find it. This is no PhD thesis!
What it is, is a library of, histories, poems, biographies, tell-all confessions, legends, family trees, songs, lamentations, love stories, creeds, apocalyptic visions, and mysteries. And I suppose, the one thing they all do have in common is, they all have to do, with faith. And so, as a people of faith, as people who have lost faith, as people who are searching for faith, and something to believe in – they all have to do with us, in an ultimate, spiritual way. In this, St Jerome was right when he called it, Bibliotheca Divina, or the Divine Library.
This heterogeneous collection should not be surprising really, seeing how we can, and do, read all these kinds of writings today. Of course, not every style will resonate with every reader. Some like biographies best, some poems. I’m not a big fan of mysteries, myself. But I do like the Transfiguration story from our gospel lesson today, which some have called a mystery, others call it, “magical realism,” ala, Gabriel Garcia Marques. I’m sure if I were there on that mountain with Jesus, I would have been as confounded as Peter, John and James were. But after dozens and dozens of readings, I feel like it begins to speak a truth to me, that I can’t ignore. God is real, imminent even, and close at hand; yet, at the same time, God is big and mysterious, not totally graspable; God is too big and overshadowing to live with, for more than a moment, much less fully, every day.
How about you? Is this the story you turn to, when you open the Bible? You’re looking a bit skeptical out there!
I don’t think it’s anyone’s most favorite. It seems out of place, in a way – a vision of, the end of Jesus’ story in his final glory, here, smack-dab in the middle of it!
Let me give you a kind of analogy to this visionary mystery – this magical realism passage, of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It reminds me of that Book Discussion on “Heaven is for Real,” the story of the boy who had a Near Death Experience after a terrible appendicitis and surgery that almost killed him, and came back to tell about the visions of heaven he saw, Jesus and Mary, his little sister, and so on. I had an 80 year old man in my former parish who nearly died of a heart attack, and told me of the white light he saw and was drawn to, and how beautiful and welcoming and wonderful it all felt. And he wasn’t the kind that believed in stories like that before it happened to him.
I’m not sure how I feel about NDE’s either – I guess a mixture of comfort but also skepticism. And I think that’s akin to what the disciples experienced too, in the Transfiguration of Jesus. After a vigorous hike up the mountainside, while in prayer, Jesus’ clothes appear dazzling white, and his face changes; the disciples see Moses and Elijah alive with him, they fight off a sleepy feeling, like a trance or a dream, but it was such a wonderful and positive one, they stayed awake, and didn’t want the apparition to end; and a cloud, way up at the top of the mountain, suddenly overshadowed everything, and they heard a heavenly voice saying, “this is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”
And just like that, it was over. Like waking up from the most vivid dream you‘ve ever had, and you’ll never forget – and it transforms you, changes something in you. Even as you wake up, you know Jesus is real. God is real. So you feel a little let down perhaps, that God wants us to live down in the valley, even though you feel as if half of you is still on the mountain-top!
But despite how jarring the waking up is, the two realities are connected. Just like the very next story in our gospel reading. On the very next day, it says, the disciples and Jesus are met by a concerned father, one of many, in a great crowd. And he is frantic and insistent that Jesus look at his son, his only child – not his disciples. They couldn’t help. They had not yet been transfigured enough to take action. And when Jesus calls the boy to him, the demon dashes him to the ground in convulsions, like his father has seen so many times before – but Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, healing the boy, and transforming him back to himself, so he could return to his father, whole again. And all were astounded at the greatness of God, in Jesus.
Even in the one gospel story of Luke, we find two different literary styles right next to each other, “magical realism,” and ‘healing’ story. And what they both have in common is faith, or more precisely, I’d say, divine transformation. The transfiguration of Jesus wants to show us that, the son of Mary and Joseph is also, the son of God. And the healing of the father’s son, wants to show us how Jesus the Christ, came to liberate us from all that oppresses us – to transform us into the blessedness we were created for.
We are transformed by the overshadowing divine clouds that appear to us in visions and dreams. And being transformed, we can liberate others to change.
Jesus doesn’t necessarily blame the Disciples for failing to heal the boy, after all the teaching and healing he has done with them. But he does name society, a faithless generation all around him, for not yet getting it.
And as disciples of Jesus today, we see it all around us, the poor being cast carelessly to the curb, our society’s structures of business and government, straining under the weight of the corruption of oligarchs, as if possessed by demons, endangering our future.
We need a vision, a mountain top experience, to transform and transfigure us, and our society, to turn around from this direction of death, and be overshadowed by the voice speaking to us from the cloud.
The word Transfiguration means, metamorphosis – to morph or change into another form, another creature, a new being. On the 8th day, it says, that’s when Jesus took his disciples up to the mountain-top – the day of the new creation, the day of resurrection.
For the rational mind, the modern and post-modern mind, the Transfiguration story of Jesus can appear unbelievable, even bizarre. For a people continuing their search for faith, it is a “magical realism,” a hopeful heavenly vision. And it is no coincidence that something completely different follows it, down in the valley, and which is not un-related. It too is a story of transfiguration – the miracle of liberation and freedom, the gift of grace, from God, a tender family drama of coming home, waking up from a nightmare, a metamorphosis and starting over, as a new person – transfigured in the presence of God.
And this is how we can celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord!