28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. (Luke 9: 28-32)
I was probably six or seven years old when I first went to Mt. Lemmon. My friend Rudy Drahovzal’s family had a cabin not far from Rose Canyon Lake. When I was 11 or 12 years old I had something of a conversion experience while participating in a Royal Ambassador Camp on that same mountain. I pledged at a worship service that I would become a missionary for Jesus Christ. Then, a couple of days later, my mom came to pick me and a friend up. We drove home and I went back to playing baseball in the park close to my house. That’s true and it isn’t. From time to time I pulled out the bench from in front of our living room spinet piano. I placed on the bench the Bible that my mom gave to me. It was a baptismal gift. Then I silently preached like Pastor Crowder did at Calvary Baptist Church. Our cat Lucky looked up at me with cold, dark confused feline eyes. Then I became a teenager and church became impacting me like my sermons impacted our family cat. I stopped going to Calvary when I was 15 or 16. It’s weird though. The church’s current mission statement is “Empowering the Generations to Love and Serve God.” I guess something kinda took.
This Sunday is the Feast of The Transfiguration. Episcopalians celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration on Aug 6th. This feast day occurs rarely on a Sunday. (5 times between now and 2050). Celebrating Jesus’ transformation is important. And yet, the feast day of Transfiguration is like many other churchy events. (Easter, Christmas, All Saint Day). We gather together. We sing special hynms. We’re going to play with play dough at Christ Memorial this Sunday. It should be fun if not life transforming. And, that’s the point! Why climb a mountain if it isn’t going to benefit you and the people around you. Is it just for “the sake of it?” What does it mean for us that Jesus takes his closest friends and disciples up on a mountain for a mystical encounter with the Divine? Do such transforming moments happen for us? Is Jesus the only transfigured One?
Again, if so, what’s the point?
Why pack the family in the car and drive for 45 minutes to get to Windy Point Vista to see a beautiful sunset? Is it just to have fun? I hiked up to Finger Rock a couple of times when I lived in Tucson. It’s a big time workout! You definitely shouldn’t go alone or forget water like I did one time. On the other hand, taking it all in is a unique opportunity to experience the Divine in the beauty of Southwestern deserts and mountains. The Feast of The Transfiguration offers Christians the same sort of faithful exercise.
A quick summary of Jesus’ scriptural visit to Mount Tabor suggests that God intended for Jesus and his disciples to receive a prophetic message from Elijah and Moses. God provides this particular moment for Jesus’ closest disciples to observe and “listen.” Unsurprisingly, Peter, James, and John are confused and amazed. The moment so impacts Peter that he wants to enshrine it. Let’s build an altar! That never happens today, right?
Instead, Jesus guides his disciples back down the mountain. The moment doesn’t exist for itself. Indeed, the moment occurs for the purpose of entering into Jerusalem to confront evil earthly powers and practices. This transfiguring, life-changing event shoves Jesus into the darkness of Gethsemane’s Garden. Moses and Elijah’s presence were God’s means for reassuring Jesus that he would be able to endure the Cross of Calvary’s agony. The Feast of The Transfiguration and Easter Sunday’s brilliance are incomplete and spiritually insignificant without Maundy Thursday’s and Good Friday’s shadows.
The Rev. Anjel Scarborough – Rector of Grace Episcopal Church – Brunswick , MD writes: The Transfiguration is a story that calls us to face our understanding of Jesus’ identity: “Who is Jesus to me?” and “Who is Jesus to us? (A. Scarborough, Who is Jesus to us?, The Transfiguration (A,B,C) – 2014, Aug 6, 2014, para. 10.) She adds that many contemporary Christians identify Jesus with all kinds of false messages. Jesus’ transfiguration allows us to claim that we are a Christian nation. That’s a bold claim! Millions of people are suffering from all sorts of addictions, racism, and poverty. We claim to be Jesus’ faithful disciples and messengers of Christ’s gospel. Preachers, politicians, and congregants claim hypocritically that God’s intention is for us to have more worldly possessions. Such glorified messages of Christ’s transforming power and resurrection fail to recognize that Jesus Christ empowers his (and our) glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Millions of people will die of starvation today, including people in our hometowns. And to follow Jesus means to join him by living faithfully and hopefully in irrational, real-world and bewildering steps of daily discipleship. Faith in God, courage in confronting death, and accepting Christ’s graceful, merciful resurrection happens because of the Transfiguration. (A. Scarborough, 2014)
There will be lots of people this Sunday who will transform their lives by climbing mountains rather than sitting in church pews. Thousands of Christian children are attending camps. They will read bibles, go on hikes, and hopefully gaze on divine sunsets rather than connecting with their I-Phones. For those of us who will be in Church, let’s respond humbly to the question of what does it mean to be a disciple of our transfigured Lord? Here we are – living in our own Jerusalem. Is our church communicating the transforming message of God’s love? Do we seek to heal the suffering of someone close by as Jesus does? Does our faith communicate that we are special and people who don’t share our beliefs are flawed; or, does our faith invite us and other people to climb up mountains to encounter God, offer thanks for God’s radiance, and return to be deliverers of justice, joy, and eternal life beginning with right now.
I’ll place my virtual piano bench away now. Blessings along The Way – Become Enlightened this Sunday!