Today’s guest post is brought to you by Nate Craddock. Nate and I have been friends since the day he came waltzing into my office, throwing his hands in the air and proclaiming his disappointment that we had not been introduced years ago. Plopping down in the chair across from my desk, Nate told me his story of being a gay Christian in a conservative evangelical world. Nate’s the type of guy who gets into ardent arguments defending your character and buys you flowers and superwoman earrings just to let you know he’s in your corner.
Aside from Nate being the spirited, astute, comedic little brother I’ve never had, Nate is also a gay Christian, public theologian, and sartorial enthusiast living and working in the Washington DC metro area. He holds an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary, and presently works at a residential crisis stabilization facility for teens in Centreville, VA. His heart for God and others is enormous. Nate loves the Eucharist and Beyoncé, and is organizing a new faith community for sinners and saints in NoVA called Mercy Way. He blogs regularly on theology, the church, sacraments, liturgy, life, and the adventures of being a gay Christian at In the Optative.
Here’s what Nate has to share with us today, a new look at the Transfiguration, as we consider Jesus as the Vulnerable God.
One of the stories I love the most in all of Scripture is the story of the Transfiguration. It’s a deeply personal story as its remembrance on the Eastern Orthodox calendar coincides with a profound change that occurred in my life almost two years ago, and so every time I’m afforded the opportunity to come back to it, as I was this past Sunday (it being the last Sunday of the Epiphany), I look back with fondness on the way that my own life has been drawn into the light of Tabor and there transfigured.
It’s interesting because if we read this without paying too much attention, it appears as though that this is a bizarre, one-off event that exclusively happens to Jesus. He’s the one transfigured, he’s the one getting what must have been the pep talk to end all pep talks from his homies Moses and Elijah and his dad, caught up in the Holy Spirit’s eleganza extravaganza. And to be sure, this is a really glorious moment for Jesus, because he finally lets his closest friends into this deeper reality that he has been veiling from others’ sight for his entire life. But if we pay attention to the story, the cloud of light doesn’t stay mainly on Jesus, but it catches up his onlooking disciples too.
In the middle of this holy moment God pulls back the curtain, as it were, to show them what is really going on. And there Jesus is, in the middle of Moses and Elijah, in the middle of his element, and finally the disciples themselves are drawn into the middle of this greater unfolding reality.
In pulling the curtain back, God is revealing what is really going on in the Galilean. The voice of God lets us in on this divine mystery: a homeless carpenter from Galilee is the heir of the universe. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? And yet, nothing new is being bestowed on Jesus in this moment, nothing is being changed here–the transfiguration is a gift for us from its first moment to its last.
It seems to me that we are transfigured with him as we too are caught up in the cloud of light on the mountain of transfiguration. Think about those moments when someone you thought you knew has revealed something about themselves that you didn’t know, something that was deeply personal and deeply significant. I immediately think of those moments where people close to me have chosen to reveal aspects of their identity, or their dreams, or their fears to me–and when I’ve chosen to reveal those same things about me to others. To be trusted with someone’s act of self-disclosure, whether they are coming out gay or confessing a doubt or proclaiming their love or sharing their dream, is an act of sacred trust. The transfiguration is the ultimate act of self-disclosure: it’s almost as if Jesus is coming out as the Son of God. Jesus wants us to know him–and not to just know him as a distant third party, but to know him all the way into the depths of his being.
To be let in on a person’s deeper reality is indeed a transformative moment, because to let someone into that experience is a vote of confidence like none other. And what a vote of confidence it is–because Jesus’ identity is revealed to a bunch of screw ups who really have no business being trusted with anything. It’s a moment of extreme vulnerability and humility: Jesus says, here is my heart, here is my all. And indeed, as the Evangelists tell the story, this moment is the beginning of Jesus’ descent into vulnerability and humility. By revealing his true nature to his disciples, they are caught up in this wave of the Holy Spirit that will drive them all the way to the mountain of the crucifixion, and on from there to the empty tomb on Easter.
The transfiguration is not a transformation of individuals, but rather a transformation of relationships. The transfiguration means a new way of seeing, a way of seeing beauty in the midst of grime, a way of seeing peace in the midst of violence, and a way of seeing mercy in the midst of antagonism, of seeing life in the midst of death. Transfiguration is a way of seeing Jesus in the faces of the last and least among us, because through the transfiguration the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the reality that they are God’s children, too.
The transfiguration shows us that the way to live in the middle of all the onerous materialism and fumbling fundamentalism of modern life is to live with our curtains raised so that we may see Jesus in others, and that others may see Jesus in us. If we participate in the transfiguration, we’re giving people a vote of confidence, welcoming them into a deeper reality of a life that is transformational, a life that finds itself walking the way of mercy. Can we be willing to be transfigured–to have the curtains of our lives raised just a bit so people can see the transformation that is going on within us? Can we come to the Eucharistic meal and see that it is not us serving ourselves, but Christ serving us at his table? Look, here is all the grace we need to experience this transfiguration, right here, in the bread and the cup and the hands that serve it and the bodies that consume it. Here is Christ; here is his heart, here is his all.
This is the Christian life–to live with our curtains up. Amen.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What calls to you in the story of the Transfiguration?