March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Have you ever had one of those moments when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a public mirror, or in someone’s picture when you’re not posing, and you see yourself in a different way? Caught in a laugh, or a grimace, or at an angle that we couldn’t see on our own. I remember the first time a “friend” took a picture of the back of my head and there was no denying that the hairline was “shifting.” Or another time when the twist of my arm in the bathroom mirror, while picking up something I dropped, made me think, “Wow, at the right angle, I do have a bicep. Not guns, but not just flab, either.”
When we stare at ourselves in the bathroom mirror, or in the mirror while we’re trying on clothes, we’re already presenting ourselves to ourselves. We tend to see what we’re looking to see. We tend to use the experience to confirm what we already believe about ourselves. We often choose not to look at ourselves from certain angles because we don’t want to see what we hate about ourselves.
Most of us see experience our life through a lot of baggage, some of it developed out of shaming experiences; some of it because we’ve internalized society’s judgment around our skin color or gender or appearance or our social location in the world. Some of us can’t get accept the forgiveness we’ve been offered by God so we hold on to our past mistakes and failures like they’re a crucial part of our identity. We’re sure people can see how fallen, or afraid, or tentative, or ailing we are. If someone says, “I see God in you,” what’s your first reaction. “Right! You must have a vision problem. If you really knew my story…”
At one level, the story of the Transfiguration shows us Jesus’ deepest identity. We see the inside on the outside, the glory of God, dazzling the disciples. The voice from the cloud, “This is my beloved heir.” We see him with the greatest leader, Moses, and the greatest prophet, Elijah. He’s part of God’s salvation history; part of God’s plan to lead us out of darkness into light; another guide in finding healing, forgiveness, and community that helps us flourish. We see behind his words; why they glow with love and grace. We see the purest channel, divine light flowing through his body, as if he stood on that moment as the connecting point between heaven and earth.
We see the Jesus that stands at the center of our tradition; the one we worship; the one who helps us imagine what God is really like; the one that carries our prayers; the one who loves us in a way that our hearts can understand. God is too big to imagine. Jesus carries the Big Bang in his body; the initial moment of creation spreading outward into the universe. On the mountain, we see more than a historical Jesus. We see the Christ, who transcends all mountains and all experience, who lives still on our mountains and in our valleys.
But there’s a second level to the Transfiguration story. It’s hard to grapple with, because it’s one of those stories that always seems a bit beyond our understanding, a bit mysterious, not just a little weird, but somehow one of those crucial stories that teach us what’s really true. I love that the disciples had this vision in that place between being awake and falling asleep. In my own experience, those moments are when I relax enough for the depth of my experience to escape to the surface. The cares of the day, the masks, the self I present to the world, are relaxed enough not to stand in the way. The deeper truths that seem a little crazy in the light of day, somehow seem more believable in this twilight place.
The Transfiguration is not just the glimpse into who Jesus is. It’s the glimpse into who we are. Jesus was only different than us in his capacity to trust that the full light of the divine flowed through him. He allowed it to flow and to shape him in ways that seem really hard for most of us. Yet, at the same time, there is no difference. The fullness of God dwells in every human heart. The channel of love that Jesus was able to hold flows in all of us, even in those who don’t identify themselves as followers of Jesus. God made us to carry light, to be channels of resurrection power.
We say that every time we baptize a child. We say that every time we gather on Sunday to remember that Christ is risen in all of us. Our struggle is simply to awaken to the Easter that is coming to life in the depth of our being. Our struggle isn’t to become something else. It’s to become who we already are, God’s beloved. Heir to the promise. Citizen of heaven. Child of the Light.
Maybe we’ll only get that in flashes, in moments of surprised glimpses, out of the corner of our eye, reflected in the neighbor, in a little cup held up to the big cup. Maybe this is our task for the forty days of Lent. To wake up. To push away the shame, the baggage; take off the mask. To see within to the mountain top; to the place where Christ resides, to our own transfiguration.