Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration. The season of Epiphany draws to an end. The beginning of Lent is about to start. The vision of Jesus transfigured in glory was a blessing that Peter, James and John were allowed to see. The presence of Elijah, Moses and the voice of God speaking from a cloud left no doubt that they were standing in the light of Divinity. Even though frightened, little wonder that they wanted to build three dwelling places for this moment to continue. Perhaps some jealousy rises to have a glimpse of what they witnessed. The great challenge for us is to look upon Jesus in the light of Mark’s witness and not from our personal/political agendas.
Context is so important. The verses prior to the transfiguration has Jesus teaching that to follow him meant putting aside our personal agendas to follow him. He spoke of taking up a cross if we are going to be his disciples and follow him. This isn’t easy to do. The vision we so often see of Jesus is the Lord who will restore the fortunes of our nation allowing us to maintain position of privilege. We see him giving us the power to shape the political landscape. Once more, this is for our gain. If we want to capture the vision of Jesus’ glory, Mark says that we must do so from the perspective of those putting to death our desire for personal or nationalistic glory.
The voice of God from the cloud was speaking to us, the church.
This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!Mark 9:7
What was it that Jesus had to say? He ordered silence of what was seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. The next verses have Jesus coming down from the mountain to set free a boy possessed by an evil spirit. A vision of Jesus’ glory is properly seen by what he sacrificed to rescue his world from evil. His glory is seen through the lens of a cross and the resurrection.
The title was about seeing Jesus in a new light. This isn’t easy because we are always projecting onto Jesus what we want to see. Namely, our own vision of glory and power. Mark is being very clear that to see a vision of Christ’s glory means putting this vision to death – a cross. Jesus’ glory comes through a cross and resurrection as he came to set the world free. This is where the transfigured Lord is sending the church. That is, if we are willing to listen to him.
The past week has been a wild ride. Some states are going full steam ahead with opening up the economy against the caution that too much too soon will only make things worse. Crazy and deadly comments (sarcastic or not) were made about injecting disinfectants to get rid of Covid-19. Protests are happening against stay at home orders. After a few weeks of staying at home, we are all getting a serious case of cabin fever and as Spring is blooming the fever is only going to get worse. We want to get back to what life used to be like: full bars and restaurants, sports stadiums filled with cheering fans, hanging out with friends and hair cuts. There are a few voices that are saying we should just let the Covid-19 chips fall where they may and if it means some folks die as a result that is better than letting the economy tank. I personally don’t want to believe that we have become that callous, lacking empathy to place money over the value of life. We might want to hope for a return to what used to be but Covid-19 has happened and the future will be different as social distancing and face masks will be in that future.
The reading for this Sunday out of Luke has two people walking and talking about the events of the past couple days. They had hoped…they had hoped that a prophet mighty in word and deed…Jesus of Nazareth would redeem Israel. However their hope had been betrayed by the religious leaders who handed Jesus over to be crucified. Women carried the news of an empty tomb and angels announcing Jesus was alive, the tomb was empty with no Jesus to be seen. Hopes were reignited but were once again crushed because it was the third day – it was too late.
The risen Jesus joined them but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Despair can do that to us. We become so focused on what is bad that we can’t see the good. We become so focused on the unfilled hopes of the past that we can’t see a new future coming into reality. When Jesus joined them at the table and in the blessing and breaking of the bread their eyes were opened, Jesus disappeared from their presence. Suddenly eyes focused on unfulfilled hopes were able to recognize a resurrection future. They ran off to tell others that Jesus was indeed risen and that in the breaking of the bread he and a new hope filled future was revealed to them.
These days we’re hoping to bring back the past. Our eyes and focus are on what used to be and our frustrations are the result. There is another reality that invites us to look and see the risen Christ joining us in these days. The resurrection reveals a new creation (where the death and despair that the likes of Covid -19 bring are no more) that is becoming in Christ and this is our new hope.
This new hope is not for the past nor letting chips fall where they may, but focused on life for the future. Frustrated because we still must struggle with Covid-19 while hoping for what is to be in Christ? Absolutely! So we wear the masks and practice our social distancing because they are defiant acts against Covid-19 and what it represents. So we protest not to bring back the past but appeal for Christ to bring the future to completion. Our new vision is for what brings life to our neighbor and world that God so dearly loves.
This new vision is not easy to stay focused on but in breaking of the bread – Holy Communion – we declare a holy love so great that Jesus Christ would die for us. His resurrection is our life and future. This holy love lived out in Christ is our hope instead of despair.
“Come” is a word of invitation and I think this sums up much of Revelation. The book has been encouraging the church to remain faithful to its witness and to come out of the world. This isn’t an invitation to live as a hermit in isolation but to enter into a new way of life that is defined by the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to us. There is no more crying or mourning or dying there because those old ways will be no more. The beasts and the wars and the plagues and the rest of the violent images represent the judgment of this world slowly dying away; giving way to the New Jerusalem. All will be judged based upon our loyalty to the old or to the new. “Come” is the invitation for those thirsty for this New Jerusalem. “Come” is the invitation for those wanting to drink from its river of life. “Come” is the invitation to live in the new of Christ’s return.
“Come” is what the Spirit says. “Come” is what the bride says. This invitation is for Christ to bring the fulfillment of what is underway in the New Jerusalem. I won’t give a list of the mourning or the crying or the dying that is going on around us. You can fill that list out yourself. The job is easy enough to do. However if your passion is for what is coming in Christ, then let “come” be your breath’s expression.
“It is I, Jesus…” who gave this revelation to John. The revelation is from Jesus Christ who died and who was raised from the dead and who will never die again. The message is a personal one to each of us to come out from this dying world and to live with anticipation of what is to come. The violent images of Revelation show the struggles but a new creation is being born with no more crying or mourning or dying.
So John ends Revelation with these words, “The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Genesis tells us that creation begins with Adam and Eve in a garden. Revelation tells us that all things are brought to fulfillment with a city. I have lived in several cities and they are amazing places. They provide the opportunity for the enjoyment of the arts, culture and entertainment. They are also places where the poor are held in the prison of their poverty. The wealthy are imprisoned literally behind gates caused by the fear of others. The dividing line may be a simple street but it might as well be a wall thirty feet high. There are sections that are still called the Polish or German or Italian or etc. part of the city. This continues even if the designation hasn’t been true for decades. Cities are amazing places but from Revelation we read of a city that is like no other.
This city is the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God to us. It is described as a place where there is no more crying or pain or mourning or death. These former ways of life are gone. The city has been measured and found to be solid to its foundation. The city is beauty having been constructed out of precious gems. What stands out is the way life is lived out under the light and guidance from the throne of God in the center.
There are walls and gates but they are never closed for fear and need of protection. The nations are no longer relegated to their “section.” Rather the nations are free to bring their honor and glory to the city. A garden like feel is described with a river that is the water of life. The tree of life covers both sides of the river and the leaves bring healing to the nations. Life is no longer guided by the sun and moon marking the seasons but by the Lord God who is the light. This really is a city like no other. This is a city where life is sustained and flourishes.
John wrote down Revelation to give encouragement for Christians to remain faithful. Rome is called the “Eternal City” because it is believed that it will continue forever. The city of Rome was an amazing city in John’s day. However John describes a city far greater where life and healing are brought to this world of crying, pain and death. This is the new Jerusalem where we will finally see the Lord face to face.
So what do we do with a vision like this today? Well, instead of continuing the ways of division, fear mongering, us against them, that dominate the world today we choose a different way to live. We work to bring healing to the polarization. We dismantle the walls that propagate fear. We look to the honor and glory of what other nations can give for the whole. In other words, we prepare for what life will be like in the new Jerusalem.
We need a break. Not the moment to relax and get through the stresses of another busy day but a break from Revelation. The previous chapter is a difficult read. The Lamb opens the seven seals. We read of God’s wrath. The four horsemen riding horses colored white, red, black and pale bring war, famine, plague and death. A vision of the slaughtered martyrs. An earthquake and the sun turning black and the moon blood red. The people of earth from the greatest to the least call on the mountains to fall on them rather than face the wrath of the Lamb. Then there is a break.
The 144000 (representing the church on earth) is sealed. Then we have this reading from Revelation of a multitude from every tribe and nation shouting praise to God and to the Lamb. They have passed through the great tribulation.
Revelation is a calling for the followers of Christ to be faithful and this will not be easy. Jesus stood before Pilate and declared that his Kingdom was not from here. Pilate showed what the kingdoms from here do and that is crucify. Jesus showed what his kingdom does which is very different and still causes ugly debate today.
Jesus fed the hungry. In this country, we throw away nearly 40% of our food but can’t find ways to feed the hungry.
Jesus reached out to the outcast. Bring up gay, lesbian, immigrant, etc. and be prepared for a tough discussion.
Jesus healed the sick. Want to talk about healthcare? The debate will go on and on and on.
Jesus said that his kingdom is not from here. He is so true. To follow Christ, is to walk down the path of a different kingdom. The result can be persecution ranging from mild to martyrdom. This is the tribulation. We return to the multitude before God and the Lamb in Revelation.
The multitude will be before God and his protection will cover over them. Christ, the Lamb, will be a shepherd leading them to living water. There will be no more hunger or thirst or beating sun. The hand of God will wipe away the tears from our eyes.
So we take a break from the judgments of the Lamb against the world. The next chapter will have the judgments resume. For the moment, there is a much needed break. The faithful in heaven and earth will be protected from the judgments. They come to the reign of God where the tears of the struggle will be no more.
I have always struggled with the Transfiguration. Reading about what Peter, John and James were privileged to see of Christ transfigured usually leads us down the path to our own moments of where we recognize Christ’s presence in our lives. While these are nice, they pale in comparison to what they saw. We might even feel shortchanged because faith would be so much easier if we saw what they saw, right?
This is the problem we have with glory. We consider it a value to possess and control. Glory is about us and how we see it. We worship the glory rather than what lies behind the vision that overwhelms our sight. Yes, Peter, John and James had an amazing vision of Christ’s glory but it was quick. Jesus’ glory was his coming down to us to redeem us from the shrieking, life denying, convulsive evil that is all around us. He came down to us to show us that the glory isn’t found in our search for mountain top experiences. Glory goes to the One who alone will finally bring us, this world and all creation to completion through Christ’s cross and resurrection.
The verses prior to this Jesus is teaching his disciples about the need to take up the cross and follow him. What good does it do to seek glory on human terms but fail to recognize that the glory of Christ is his coming down to save us? What good does it do to sell our souls for the glory that is now and miss out on the glory that is yet to be?
I am going to look at the Transfiguration not as a frantic search for mountain top experiences and say that is glory. I am going to look at the Transfiguration as a glorious vision of what will be. Transfiguration is a jealous hunger. To one day look upon Christ in the fullness of his glory means that death will be no more, swallowed up completely in his resurrection. To one day look upon Christ in the fullness of his glory, is to have the shrieking, life defying and convulsive presence of evil silenced forever. To look upon Christ in the fullness of his glory, means we and this world and all creation will have been brought to completion in Christ. The Transfiguration for me is a jealous hunger to one day look upon the glory of Christ who has come down to save us.
What is the Transfiguration to you?