Sunday, February 15, 2015

the transfiguration: one shining day

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Transfiguration of our Lord, that mysterious and miraculous event when our Lord travels up a mountain with Peter James and John, the inner circle of the 12 apostles, and there before their eyes he is transfigured or changed and he shines with a dazzling white light, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with him, and then he is covered by a cloud out of which a voice declares: this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.

We know what that day was like for those who were with Jesus that day; but I sometimes wonder what it would have been like for an outside observer? But then, who would have been there to see it at such a remote location? And then it occurs to me, as the scribes and the Pharisees and other religious leaders hated Jesus so much they were always looking for ways to catch him out and find evidence to use against him. We know for example they brought false witnesses against him at his trial in Jerusalem. So it is likely that they had spies inserted amongst his followers, people who hung about on the fringes of things, watching, and looking for things to report back to their masters.

So imagine you are one such person. You've been following this Jesus for months now. It is no easy assignment: there's a lot of travelling and rough living involved; your masters don't pay very well and they are not all that pleased with you because they want something they can use against Jesus and so far you haven't come up with anything. In fact, they're a little fed up with your reports detailing miracles and healings and his teachings. More than once they've asked you if you're getting too close, starting to believe in him yourself. You deny it of course; but then, you do find it very difficult to explain away to yourself all that he does.

You're very good at what you do and no one suspects that you're a spy; except sometimes you see Jesus looking at you, with a little smile on his face. And you wonder does he suspect – more does he know? But how could he? You've done nothing to give yourself away. And then you remember how he often seems to know what people are thinking and you shiver a little and think he probably does know.

One morning you wake up early. It's been another rough night, sleeping outside wrapped up in your cloak. People are lying around everywhere, still asleep. You always make it your business to try to get close to Jesus at night, so that you can listen in to what he says to those closest to him. You glance over to where he had laid down to sleep with his disciples and then you freeze. He's gone, along with some of his closest disciples! You jump up, looking around frantically and you spot them off in the distance. Quickly you follow them.

After your initial panic, you're quite pleased at this opportunity. You're have little doubt that your masters have other spies amongst his followers, each hoping to be the one to get something major on Jesus and get a really large pay-off. This could be your big chance, because whatever it is that Jesus and his three friends have gone off to do secretly together, you're the only witness.

You're quite good at trailing someone without being seen; well, you wouldn't much use as a spy if you weren't, so you're confident your targets don't know you're there. But soon you start to wonder what they're up to; they're walking and walking – where could they be going? Are they heading for a secret meeting? With who? They don't seem to be heading to one of the nearby towns and villages; if anything, they're heading away from where the people are. 

They come to a foot of a mountain – not a big one, none of them are in Israel, but big enough, and they start up. And after an hour of puffing and panting along behind them, ducking behind boulders, pushing your way through bushes, crawling along on your belly across more open spaces, your realise that they are headed all the way to the top. It takes hours more, and by the time they get there your are filthy and exhausted and wondering if any amount of money could be worth this. But at last they're there and you sneak your way close, finding a good spot behind a rock near some bushes where you can see and hear what they're doing.

Jesus' companions fling themselves down onto the ground. You don't blame them. They must be just as tired as you are. But Jesus just stands there. Is he waiting for someone? But who; you're on the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. You see that Jesus is staring off into the distance. You're starting to think you've wasted your time. He's probably just come here to pray – he goes off to lonely places all the time to do that, although you've never known him to go such a distance before.

And then you notice it is starting to get brighter. Has the sun come out from behind a cloud? But there are no clouds in the sky. Where is the light coming from? And you see it is coming from Jesus. He is glowing brightly – his clothes, his face, his hands, his feet. You don't know what's happening. It hurts your eyes and you want to look away but you can't bring yourself to do it. And then you see two men. You have no idea where they've come from. They are old men with white beards holding thick staffs. How could they have climbed the mountain? Yet there they are.

 Jesus seems to be talking with them, but you can't hear what they are saying. His disciples are talking too, but they seem to be babbling. You hear fear in their voices. Clearly they have no more idea what is going on than you do. And then a cloud covers Jesus. How is that possible – the sky was clear only a moment ago. Out of the cloud you hear a voice, a voice that booms like thunder – it makes the ground beneath you vibrate and the teeth rattle in your head. It says: this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.

Suddenly the cloud is gone. The two men are gone also. And Jesus looks just as he did as he had done before it all begun. For a long while no one moves. You can hear sheep bleating in the distance and the screeching cry of a hawk as it wheels above you in the sky. And then without a word Jesus begins to walk away, heading back to the path he had used to ascend the mountain. You slide further behind your rock. His companions scramble to their feet and stumble after him. As they walk past where you are hidden, you hear Jesus telling them that mustn't speak about what they have seen, that they have to wait until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead. As he is speaking, you see him look right at where you are. You know he can't see you – the bush hides you completely from his view. But still he stares right at you. He gives a little smile and a nod and you curl up even tighter, making yourself as small as possible. But he says nothing and they continue down the mountain.

You stay where you are. There is no need to hurry. You know where they are going; back to where they came from that morning. You sit there, thinking. What was it you just witnessed. What was that voice. Was it God? And if it was, was he truly calling Jesus his Son? And what of the way he had glowed. You had never seen anything like it, never heard of such a thing. No, wait, that wasn't true. There was an account of someone shining like that in Scripture – Moses after he had met with God and received the ten commandments. That had happened up a mountain as well and afterwards Moses had had to veil his face because he shone so brightly. But Moses had shone with the reflected light of God. Jesus had glowed brightly all on his own.

Sitting there, you know you should start moving. It is getting late; there's only a few hours of daylight left and it is starting too cool. You shiver on the mountain top but you do not move. Not yet. You're still thinking about what you've seen and heard. And not just the things of that day, but of all the other days you've been watching and listening, and the things that you've heard others says, things that you hadn't seen for yourself. Some said he'd walked on water; others that he had made a storm cease with a word; others that he had fed thousands with a few scraps of bread; more that he had brought the dead back to life. You hadn't given much credit to them before, despite what you had seen for yourself, because who could believe such things? But now, you find it harder to doubt what you have been told.

But more than anything you think about the voice from the cloud, so loud your teeth still ache and there's a ringing in your ears. It had said that Jesus was his Son. And it said to listen to him. Was it speaking to only the disciples or to you as well? Slowly you get to your feet. You are surprised to find that your legs are shaking. And slowly you begin to walk down the mountain.

As you do so, you begin to pray. And you say:

'God you alone are holy; you alone are Lord. Help me to understand what it is that I have witnessed today. Help me to listen to the one that you call your Son. Help me to do what he teaches me to do. Amen'

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