The Adventurous Lectionary – Transfiguration of Jesus – February 27, 2022
2 Corinthians 3:14-4:2
If only the doors of perception were cleansed, we would see the infinity of all things, so wrote William Blake. Transfiguration Sunday describes the presence of the Infinite in the finite. The mood is mystical, but far from other worldly. Encountering God may be ecstatic, but it also drives us back into the world. Moments of wonder eventuate in moments of service. We experience ecstasy and then must mop the floor. We return to the demands of a difficult congregation after a life-changing spiritual retreat. We preach sermons and turn our attention to unplugging a toilet in the Christian Education wing. Holistic spirituality embraces every aspect of life, and out of our relationship with God, we experience sacredness in the maelstrom of life and diamonds in the dung, discovering that dung gives birth to lilies and roses. As Zen Buddhists note, before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water; after enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water. The same applies to divine transfiguration: we may end up doing the same personal and professional activities, but now we do them with awareness that each place can be a “thin place,” and each moment an epiphany, regardless of the calling of the present moment.
In the gospel reading, the disciples are spirited to the heavens. Their doors of perception are cleansed and they experience Jesus’ deepest reality – divine light and heavenly infinity. The very cells of Jesus’ body glow with divine energy. Anything is possible as Jesus dialogues with Moses and Elijah. Without warning they are plunged into the realm of the mystical. They can’t fathom what they are experiencing, but they know it is beyond belief. Their experience is not unlike those who have what is popularly known as “near death experiences” or experiences of transcendence in which the heavens open up and we hear the harmony of the spheres. They are invited into a “thin place,” as the Celtic mystics say, in which heaven and earth, divinity and humanity, permeate one another.
Like us, they want to stay here forever. A life of clarity, with no conflict and ambiguity, is appealing to most of us. A life of joy and wonder, without obligation is attractive. But, mountaintops find their completion in pilgrimages through life’s valleys – for us and for Jesus’ followers. Eventually, we must return to daily life and our responsibilities as professionals, parents, and citizens. Life comes at you fast, as the commercial says, and the disciples are plunged into the harsh reality of a child’s incurable illness and a father’s deep despair. Mysticism gives way to the maelstrom of the moment.
A number of years ago, as I was preparing for a Transfiguration Sunday sermon, I heard a line from the film “Ice Age” in the living room where my grandchildren were watching, and one of the characters asserts, “the adventure is right here!” That’s at the heart of today’s passage. “Right here” is wherever we are, whether on the mountaintop or the deep valley. God’s omnipresence reminds us that God is right here, and that “divine here” is everywhere. God is fully present in moments of celebration and clarity, and God is also embedded in moments of confusion and desolation. Each moment can be a sacrament for those who open to God’s presence. There are no moments without divine guidance, inspiration, or beauty, even – as St. Francis affirms in his famous Canticle – moments of pain and death.
Epiphanies and Transfigurations lead to missional action. Jesus’ mystic moment – and the disciples’ awakened perception – plunge them into a world of pain. We need the high points of life to gain perspective, to experience the glory of God, and these find their completion in responding to others’ needs. Our epiphanies may make confrontation with the demonic in our world all the more challenging – and necessary. Howard Thurman asserts that the mystic must challenge anything which stands in the way of others’ full humanity, the full realization of their potentials, and that is our calling as well. The demons we may encounter are the spirits of racism, homophobia, incivility, political prevarication, consumerism, and violence, not to mention our own inner ambiguities and temptations.
Moses glows after every encounter with the Holy One. Yet, every encounter pushes him down the mountain to bring guidance to the wayward and recalcitrant people he leads. Our moments of spiritual clarity are meant to shine a light on – and give clarity – to the challenges of daily life. In seeing the light, our calling is to be the light for others – exposing falsehood and guiding with truth. When we find the perspective of the mountaintop, we can face the uncertainties of our congregations and personal lives with a sense of trust in God’s ultimate providence and care.
We are the children of Moses and Jesus’ disciples, so says the passage from 2 Corinthians. God’s light illumines us. God shows us the way and gives us a deep and holy glow. This glow is meant to inspire our vocation to light up the world. Living in God’s light, experiencing God’s “glow flow,” gives us confidence in difficult times: as we look at the realities of our congregations and communities, we do not lose heart, but press forward, guided by our trust in God’s providence in every season of life. Having seen the light of Christ, we are no longer content with mediocrity, ambiguous ethics, and self-deception. We live in the light and walk by the light, and share the light of the world.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books, including PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET.