24 Feb 2013
“While [Jesus] was praying His face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29) In the name …
The pastor's 5 year-old daughter noticed that her father always paused and bowed his head for a moment before he began his sermon. One day, she asked him why. "Well, Honey," he began, proud that his daughter had even noticed, "I'm asking the Lord to help me preach a good and exciting sermon." "Well,” she answered, “how come He doesn't answer?"
Today’s Gospel shares with us the unimaginably exciting account of the Transfiguration. The only problem is the excitement is gone. The disciples were just coming to grips with the possibility that Jesus was more than a prophet, that He may actually be the Messiah sent by God. They were actually scandalized by Jesus’ words that as the Messiah He would have to suffer and even die. In the thousand years of sacred tradition that the disciples accepted as revealed truth, there was no message about a suffering and dying Messiah. Where was Jesus coming from? What could He mean? His followers simply could not process all of this sudden and actually scary news.
It is into this already confused state that Jesus then throws in the experience of the Transfiguration. Up on that mountain, His human appearance gives way for a moment to His divinity. While the disciples are still trying to process the idea of Jesus suffering and dying, He throws at them the even more outlandish reality of His divinity. When the disciples thought of Jesus as prophet and even Messiah, they still thought of Him as a man, a man of God, but still a man. It was hard enough to figure out why this man of God would have to suffer and die when a thousand years of religious tradition pointed in the exact opposite direction. But now with the Transfiguration, the message was even more ridiculous: in Jesus God was going to suffer and die.
Peter, James and John are left bewildered by the whole experience. They’re in a dazed mental state. They can’t figure out, says the Bible, if they’re sleeping or awake. And all of this is captured for us in Peter’s inappropriate exclamation about building some sort of sheds for these three heavenly beings. They hear Moses and Elijah, the great law-giver and prophet of ancient Israel, discussing with Jesus His impending Passion and death in Jerusalem. They witness the voice of God declaring, “‘This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to Him.’” And this left each of them speechless. They say nothing about what they had seen or heard until after the resurrection. You know how you hear people saying they don’t want to tell others that they may have seen a UFO because people will think they’re crazy. Well something like that is taking place here. Peter, James and John say nothing because they don’t exactly know what just happened, and they don’t want others to think they’re crazy if they do say something.
This is the excitement of the Transfiguration. Peter was just praised eight days earlier for declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. That was a huge leap of faith forward. To many of Peter’s contemporaries it was an unjustified statement. Jesus had none of the trappings of power and royalty that tradition required of God’s Messiah. But now, at the Transfiguration, the three chosen disciples come face to face with the intimidating reality that Jesus is the beloved and authoritative Son of God Himself. Messiah seems wimpy in comparison. This is the awakening that Jesus is God, and simultaneously this is the realization that God is willing to suffer and die. Try to imagine dealing with that revelation for the very first time. Heck, try even to seriously think about it now, that in Jesus God is crucified, and wonder about all of the questions of why and how that follow.
This is the excitement of the Transfiguration and we’ve let it slip away. It has become just another story. That Moses and Elijah appear and give credence to the notion of a crucified God, that this revelation to three dazed disciples who don’t even know if they’re sleeping or awake is supposed to overturn all of the accumulated religious tradition since the time of King David, this is just absurd, but this is the point of the Transfiguration. It changes everything. It changes our impression to this point of who Jesus really is. It was a completely unexpected revelation. It surprised the be-Jesus out of the disciples. And maybe that’s something we need more of in our faith-lives. Maybe we need to be stunned again by God, to be excited and surprised by God, to not imagine everything has been defined for all time for us. The gospel is always going to be a challenge, but too often we settle.
Too often we seem jaded in our faith. We move along from Sunday to Sunday but we don’t expect too much to change in between. We’re getting ready to once again approach the cross and grave of Christ. It’s a message of God’s absolute, unconditional love for us. It’s a message of God’s torment on our behalf. I have a friend whose learning how to give his dog intravenous IV’s because he loves his dog that much – his dog! But when we speak about God’s love for us being as great as the sacrifice of the cross, we are not moved enough to really change our lives. We appreciate the love of family and friend, and even of pet, but of God we are often left unimpressed. Somehow we’ve allowed the utterly amazing to become unexciting, the extraordinary to be common. Just like the pastor’s 5-year-old daughter was wondering why not even a prayer to God could help her dad preach an exciting sermon, I need to ask, we need to ask, how do we get back to being surprised by this kind of a God? I was joking around with the ladies at pierogi about their being excited about The Bachelor on television, I was saying Sharon was going to have to watch it since the women all do whatever the guy asks, but if we can talk about The Bachelor on Monday morning, then why can’t we be at least as interested in the stories of our God?
That we may also be transfigured by our faith and find in it once again the excitement and surprise of being close to God, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo