“A Glimpse of God”
March 2, 2003
Today is Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday, and we again return to the persistent theme of Jesus’ identification that is at the forefront of this time in the Church year, but this is not an easy story to put our heads around. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration moves along like a regular narrative, but there is something mysterious about this event. It is both real and surreal.
Many details of the story remind us of Moses encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. Both events occur on top of a mountain, both involve a divine manifestation; both include God speaking out of a cloud, and the faces of both Moses and Jesus become luminous. But the Bible is full of stories like this: Moses and the burning bush, Jacob and the ladder full of angels, Job and voice of God that comes out of the whirlwind, the host of angels singing Glory to God in the highest when Jesus is born, and the heavens being torn apart as the Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus at his baptism as a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The only appropriate response to the transfiguration of Jesus is silent awe, not fully comprehending what has taken place, but knowing that in one way or another we have witnessed the glory of God in Jesus. Even if it is just for a moment, the curtain has been pulled back for us, the veil lifted, the heavenly shroud raised, and we have caught a glimpse into a time and space that is beyond our own. We have caught a glimpse of the divine glory that is normally hidden from our sight. We have caught a glimpse, if only for an instant, of the identity and action of the Almighty God that is woven in the fabric of human history, disguised and now revealed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who truly is our Lord and our God.
Whatever words scholars and commentaries, and even pastors, may use to explain what happened are in the end inadequate. Whatever interpretations we may deduce from these events are, in the end, only attempts to give us something concrete and tangible to hold on to. But stories like this in the Bible go beyond conventional wisdom, beyond rational, logical thinking, go beyond the concrete and tangible. We, like Moses, Peter, James and John, can really only stand with our mouths and eyes wide open in silent awe from seeing a glimpse of God. And maybe that is how it is supposed to be.
The truth is that we have witnessed something beyond this world, beyond space and time, as we know it. Our human minds cannot fathom what has taken place before our eyes, but all we know is that something special, something spectacular, something mysterious, something divine as taken place.
On a Sunday morning, many years ago, Jill, myself, and the other youth advisors, took the youth from our church to the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia to see the sunrise. Our plan was to have a devotional and sing some songs on top of the mountain as the sun came up. So, we meet at the church very early in the morning while it was still dark, climbed in a van and headed to Stone Mountain. Even at that hour the van ride was noisy. The youth were energetic and excited, talking non-stop as we drove to Stone Mountain Park.
Upon arriving, we parked at the base of the mountain, got out of the van, and proceeded to walk up the one-mile path on the west side of the mountain that would take us to the top. The youth talked the whole way up, laughing, giggling as they effortlessly climbed the one-mile path 686 feet up. As we reached the top, we walked around to the east side of the mountain and found a spot to sit among the other people who were also there to see the sunrise.
The view was breathtaking. The horizon was beginning to glow as the sun moved around the other side of the earth, but the land around us was still dark, only the lights of the city around us were visible. The advisors got together and started getting things ready, when we realized that it was quiet all around us. No one was talking, not a single person on top of that mountain. We looked over at the youth and they were sitting, huddled together keeping warm in the cool, dawn air, watching the sky change colors as the sun inched its way up. We put our devotional and song books away, and all of us sat together in silent awe, knowing that something divine was taking place as the sun rose up in the sky illuminating our faces with a brilliance from seeing a glimpse of God.
These are the moments when we don’t want our experiences to end, but we can’t stay on the mountain forever. We must return to the valley down below, to the world in which we live. But it is hard for us to let go of the experience, so like Peter, we try to hold onto our spot on the mountain, to erect a memento to what has happened, to leave something for us to come back to, so that we might catch another glimpse of the divine glory we have seen.
But Jesus says, “No, not now. Something else must come first. I must first be arrested, spat upon and beaten, abused and chided, ridiculed and mocked, nailed to a cross and die, and on the third day be raised from the dead.” “No Jesus. It doesn’t have to be that way. It can’t be that way. Let’s just stay here on top of the mountain”. But we can’t, and neither can Jesus.
Without the cross and resurrection, our mountain top experience of the transfiguration of Jesus is meaningless. Without the cross and resurrection, Jesus is only a victim and not the victor, he is only the one despised and rejected by the world, and not the one beloved and well pleasing to God. And that is how it must be for our very lives, for our very salvation. The good news of the story of Jesus Christ is yet to come.
And so we come down off the mountain, having experienced a special and divine moment in our lives of faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to be on top of a mountain see Jesus for who he really is, as the one who reveals to us the true heart and character of God, it only means that we must be in a different place, in the valley down below.
During the middle of the night, I lied awake in the hospital bed scared to death, waiting for my phone to ring. I was the on-call chaplain and it was my first night to be on-call all night long. Around 3:00 in the morning, my phone rang. A woman in ICU was not doing well, and she requested to speak to the chaplain. I got dressed, and hurried down the hall to the ICU, my heart pounding, wondering what I was going to encounter.
I entered the ICU, found the patient’s room, and stood outside the door for a few moments, trying to calm my nerves. I walked in and sat down in a chair next to the woman. We talked for a while, not about anything significant, just talking. After a while, I sensed that she was getting tired, so I stood up and asked if she would like for me to pray. She looked up at me, and said, “No,… I will.” She reached out and grabbed my hand, and as she prayed, tears came to my eyes. She never once prayed for herself, only for me and for the doctors and nurses, thanking God for our kindness and care. As she prayed, I realized that she had not been the only one ministered to that night. She had ministered to me. In this woman, I saw no one except Jesus himself alone. There was nothing I could do except stand in silent awe, for in this woman I again saw a glimpse of God.
My friends, there is no shortage of seeing glimpses of God in this world. Those of us who have not yet glimpsed the full brightness of the Lord may still behold his glory, reflected all around us in the people we care for and minister to, for it is in those moments with others, that Jesus’ true identity is revealed for all to see, illuminating us with a brilliance that can only come from nothing else but the glory of the Lord. Amen.