The Adventurous Lectionary – The Transfiguration of Jesus – February 14, 2021
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Our scriptures invite us to affirm the mystical aspects of faith. The great religions of the world emerged out of and were sustained by encounters with God. These moments of transcendence 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 in the spirit of Celtic Christianity 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 places of revelation. They are literally, figuratively, and spiritually closer to heaven than the flatlands. They are places of perspective and vision where we can glimpse the far horizons of Divinity. The disciples are invited to see Jesus’ quantum reality, the radiant energy of the universe, the reality disguised by his flesh and bone. On the mountaintop, divine light shines through his cells as well as his soul. Jesus shines along with Moses and Elijah, his companions and contemporaries in the Spirit. 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. (see Bruce Epperly, “Mystics in Action: 12 Saints in Action,” Orbis Press)
The apostle Paul speaks of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus is more than flesh and blood, he reflects the lively wisdom of divine creativity, as old as the big bang and as new as this moment. 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. Christ embodies and propels forward the moral and spiritual arcs of the universe, aiming at justice and Shalom. 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. He wants the loving power which comes from direct experience of God. 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. After a year in exile from Sunday in-person worship in many congregations and lives, for many, limited to home and a few necessary excursions, we need to experience glory in the domestic and every day. We want a transfigured world. We want the light of God to shine through our home offices, Zoom worship services, bedtime stories with children and grandchildren, and the ordinary tasks of careful living in this time of pandemic.
We are all mystics in the making. God touches each one of us with love and insight. A transfiguration can occur unexpectedly as the disciples discover. We can also prepare for transfiguring experience through prayer and contemplation, and empathy toward the vulnerable. Our lives and word can be illuminated. We can experience greater beauty and love, rejoice in family life, and share our good news with the world.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books including LOVE IN A TIME OF CRISIS AND PANDEMIC, WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM, MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY, PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVE, and PROCESS THEOLOGY: EMBRACING ADVENTURE WITH GOD.