Last Sunday after Epiphany: The Transfiguration – February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus is transfigured. Moses and Elijah appear and then strangely disappear. Peter is perplexed. James and John are silent. God speaks. The disciples are overcome with awe. Jesus tells them to say nothing about what has happened! Mystery and divine presence are pervasive in our gospel story for today. What is the transfiguration telling us?

The Transfiguration story is always the Last Sunday in the church season of Epiphany, transitioning us into the season of Lent and Easter. I was really struck this year when I read Karoline Lewis’ explanation of this. And I share many of her thoughts with you.

The Transfiguration is a fitting story to transition us to Lent because it insists that we keep what was and what can be in tension. The Transfiguration represents change. At its core, the Transfiguration insists that change is difficult but needed. In this case, change rocks your world, but likely your world needed some sort of earthquake kind of event.

We suspect Peter is caught in that suspension between wanting things to stay the same and knowing that change is afoot.

So, we build tents. A rather apt metaphor for this in between experience. Not permanent structures, but structures just the same — to give us more time, to hold on to something we likely know cannot be held. To capture, however briefly, a moment that might very well carry us through the change that is about to happen.

The Transfiguration is that threshold moment between what was and what is to come. You get a glimpse of what could be, when actually, it was all along. You know what I mean, right? It’s not that we haven’t seen the change coming. It’s not that we haven’t recognized what the change might look like. We just wonder if we are ready. If we can we handle it. If we are prepared. We erect temporary structures as an act of entrenchment but also to capture a memory to cope with what is to come.

Yes, Peter wants Jesus to stay. But Peter also needs the memory to stay — the glory, the confirmation, the assurance, the promise, the declaration — because he will need it later on — and big time.

Letting go is almost impossible without the act of holding on.

As we move into Lent, this seems essential. Holding on when letting go — letting go of our images of God. Letting go of control. Letting go of certainty. Letting go of conviction. Even letting go of the crucifixion.

Change, by definition, is a simultaneous holding on of what was and a looking toward the hope of what can be. And that’s why it is rather excruciating. Change insists that you exist in a place you don’t want to be. Change demands that you abide in a space of yet to be resolution. Change creates a sense of grief over what was and yet excitement for what is to come.

We are in constant movement of change in relationships — with partners, with friends, with children. We know change in our jobs, in our careers. We recognize major life changes — graduations, marriages, children.

The Transfiguration moment, that moment when you know change has to happen but you are not quite ready. That moment when you have a hundred million reasons to walk away but you just need one good one to stay (Million Reasons, Lady Gaga). That moment when you are desperate to hold on and yet you know you have to leave. That moment when you need to leave and yet you insist on holding on.

That’s Transfiguration. It’s not the glory. It’s not some sort of “get over it and come down the mountain” lesson. It’s both. It’s faith. It’s the sense that change is necessary but yet that truth is hard to accept. It’s the knowing that moving on is essential but you have yet to reconcile the past.  

Change matters are heart and soul matters. Change exposes. Change changes. But change matters are the very essence of our faith”.

Jesus says to the disciples, “get up and do not be afraid”.  Because God is God of the past, present, and future, we need not fear. This is not the same as saying that we will have no problems, or that we will avoid all harm and hardship. Rather, it is recognizing that when we trust God for our individual and communal good and believe God is with us always, we need not fear. God did not create us for death but for resurrection, and so also God does not want us to be afraid but to move forward – even and especially in uncertain times – with courage and confidence. “Get up and do not be afraid.  

It’s important to remember that these words are said about and by our Lord as he refuses to linger on the mountain top but comes back down again into the realities of the world – and our life – as he makes his way to Jerusalem. There he will be tried, condemned, and crucified. But the story does not end with only the courage of one man defying the world. It continues with the promise that God raised this One from the dead so that all of us might have hope that there is more to this life than we can see, that God will be with us every step of our way, and that love and life are stronger than hate and death.

In her book, The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams tells about a little stuffed rabbit who lived on a shelf in a child’s nursery, who wanted more than anything else in all the world to be real.  The other toys in the nursery, especially the mechanical toys, snubbed him and made fun of him because he was stuffed with sawdust.  But the Skin Horse was different, and he was willing to listen to the Velveteen Rabbit and help him understand what it meant to be real.  The Skin Horse was wise, for he had lived longer in the nursery than all the rest.  He was so old that his shiny brown coat was bald in patches, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out for the children to use to string bead necklaces.

One day the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse, “What is REAL? … Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”  The skin horse said, “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.  “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”  The skin horse said, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.  But the Skin Horse only smiled.  “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said.  “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.  It lasts for always.”

And so it does, for life is a one-way journey with many surprises and disappointments along the way.  Once you taste its reality, you can never go back, for the experiences of life lead to fresh new encounters with the living Christ. The Transfiguration moments….fresh encounters with the living Christ. Our God is the God of the past, the present and the future. Our God loves us and that love is real.   Amen.