The Adventurous Lectionary – The Transfiguration of Jesus – February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Today, with rock singer-songwriter Van Morrison, our scriptures invite us to sail into the mystic. All the great religions of the world emerged out of encounters with God, that radically changed the lives of those who encountered the Holy. They were transfigured, and their experiences gave birth to the faith traditions we celebrate today. Transfiguration comes in many ways, both dramatic and gradual, and this begs the question, “What is a transfigured life?’ Today’s readings are about glory and transformation. They invite us to see our worlds as “thin places,” transparent to the divine. They invite us to imagine ourselves as transfigured persons, “thin” and translucent to the Divine.
The transfiguration of Jesus occurs in one such “thin place.” Historically mountaintops are seen as places of revelation. They are literally, figuratively, and spiritually closer to heaven than the flatlands. They are places of perspective and vision of the far horizons of Divinity. The disciples are invited to see Jesus’ quantum reality, the reality disguised by his flesh and bone. On the mountaintop, divine light shines through his cells as well as his soul. While we seldom see the inner light of our companions, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration invites us to look for “more” in ourselves and others. There are angels in boulders and revelations in the commonplace. The whole earth is filled with God’s glory, and charged with “God’s grandeur.”
The disciples rightly want to stay on the mountaintop. They don’t want to return to the maelstrom of conflict and challenge. We want mystical moments – life’s highpoints – to last forever in their purity. We want to savor falling in love without doing the dishes, monitoring family finances, and changing diapers. We want to experience God without all the complications of a life devoted to relational and social transformation. But, a full life leads us from contemplation to action, and from mysticism to dirty hands in bringing heaven to earth. We find this interplay of mysticism and social transformation – dare we say, transfiguration – in the lives of Gandhi, Day, Romero, and Thurman. We must move from prayer to protest, and meditation to movement.
The apostle Paul speaks of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the revelation of God’s deepest nature and the deepest nature of the universe. This is not scientific truth, or a reality that can be objectively verified; it is divine meaning that shines through the world of atoms, particles, rocks, and sunsets. The energy of love permeates all things. Only our vision prevents us from seeing the infinity of all things. God’s glory is veiled by our failure to look deeply into life settling for the surface rather than the inner life and light of all things. Yet, the glory of God is also ethical in nature. Jesus Christ is our model of spiritual formation in his ability to mediate his divinity with the humanity of those around him. Conversely, we are called to mediate our humanity with the divinity in all things.
The “ascension” of Elijah also stretches our imaginations. Elijah is journeying to meet God face to face. Unlike most mortals he will, according to the narrative, not die, but “go to the light,” encountering and being embraced by the wisdom and energy of God. Elisha wants to go with his teacher and mentor Elijah. Despite Elijah’s protests, Elisha follows his teacher on the path to immortality.
Finally, the two men must part. Elijah asks his follower what gift he would like to receive. Elisha says he wants a “double portion” of his mentor’s spirit. Elisha is not settling for wealth or power, but spiritual insight and energy. Our spiritual lives are not about settling for mediocrity, but aiming at great things – revelations of God’s spirit and energy to transform the world.
Psalm 50 continues this theme, emphasizing the light and glory of God shining through all creation. But’s glory is not indifferent to the pain of suffering humankind. “The heavens declare God’s righteousness” and challenge us to be instruments of divine righteousness in the world.
The mysticism of today’s scriptures can seem unbelievable to many congregants. Yet, we live in a world in which descriptions of near death experiences become best sellers. We also hear of scientific studies on the power of prayer to change peoples’ health outcomes and the role of energy medicine to provide physical comfort and overall well-being. (See Bruce and Katherine Epperly, “Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus” and Bruce Epperly, “Healing Mark’s: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel.” and “The Energy of Love: Reiki and Christian Healing.”) While not invoking supernatural violations of cause and effect, we can nevertheless look for the miracles present in everyday life. We can affirm that faith and prayer can shape our lives for the best and commit ourselves to see holiness in every situation and bring out the holy in others, especially the vulnerable and marginalized. Our churches can be laboratories of mysticism, calling those who have encountered God to go out into the world, spreading the good news of God’s loving companionship. (For more on mysticism and social involvement, see Bruce Epperly, “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World.”)