I think Transfiguration is one of the strangest things to occur in the church year. Truth be told, there are a lot of occasions we mark in the church year that cause Pastors a lot of grief because the question is always “do I have anything new to say about this??” This happens for me (personally) at Transfiguration, Christ the King Sunday, and even (on occasion) Easter and Christmas. What can be said about these texts that will be different? What can be said that will be challenging? What can be said that will encourage all of you to leave this place anxious to serve God and one another? So maybe instead of preaching on what Transfiguration actually is (which, I might do just a bit) I want to talk more about why it matters and why you should care.
This story can be confusing to talk about anyway. It takes place on top of a mountain, which is a big hint to us listeners. This is a mountaintop experience; a high moment, a peak, that “achieved goal” feeling. Peter believes it’s a nice enough place that they should stay for a while. God affirms who Jesus is: God’s son, the beloved. Jesus tells Peter, James, and John to not be afraid after God tells them to listen to Jesus. They head back down the mountain all while Jesus tells them “let’s keep this whole thing between us until after I die and am resurrected, okay?” So, I think it’s pretty clear why that story should matter to your own personal faith life, am I right?
Transfiguration marks the last Sunday before Lent. Of course, Jesus had no idea that thousands of years later that there would be such a thing as the liturgical calendar. And that we would call the upcoming season would be called Lent; that we would mark a 40 day journey to the cross. All Jesus knew is that his life was about to take a very different turn and that he would soon be arrested Transfiguration is one of the best examples of “already but not yet.” What this means is that for us (and for the disciples) we are seeing and hearing about who Jesus is (God has claimed him as God’s son and as the beloved all while Jesus is clothed in glowing white clothes) while also knowing that God’s glory isn’t yet complete through the cross. For Jesus and the disciples something is coming. Something that strikes fear into the hearts of all good Lutherans. Something that makes us uncomfortable and squeamish. That something is change.
As much as we joke about change and how much Lutherans hate change, it happens to all of us. Change can be a good thing, right? That doesn’t mean that change isn’t scary. But, it can usher us from one point in life that is just okay to another arena of life that is better than we ever imagined. Personally, I think about the change that went from being engaged to being married. I think about the change that came from being pregnant to having Ellen. I also have fond memories of the change that came with moving here to become your pastor. All of these events were scary in their own way, but the change was not only welcomed, it was eagerly anticipated. And as much as we sometimes want change, we have to be willing to let go, which means admitting that we’ve been holding on (and maybe, for some, holding on for too long).
Change is also a strange place to be emotionally. We often find ourselves in this weird place of grieving and anticipating all at the same time. The disciples had no idea what was to come (even though Jesus had told them several times by now). Jesus knew. And we know too. If you think about today as the physical movement of the time after Epiphany into Lent, the emotions that fill that space can be unsettling too. We may want to hold on to the comfort that light brings. We know the cross is coming and we know what the cross means for our lives, but that doesn’t mean we want to hurry the process of getting there.
While change may be welcomed, it can also be really painful. Often we know that change needs to happen. Change is going to happen. “A change is gonna come” (Sam Cooke).Change often comes in a moment when we’re not ready (even if we think we are). That’s where our faith steps in. We know that change is going to happen, that it is necessary, but change is still hard to accept. We know we have to move on, but we haven’t settled everything that is in our past. We know that something better could be coming, but we just got comfortable in the place we’re in. No matter how badly we want to stay in the now, change is coming and it is going to happen whether we like it or not.
Those moments on the mountaintop didn’t happen to teach the disciples about who Jesus is and was (although that did happen). Those moments on the mountaintop didn’t happen to inspire the disciples in their ongoing work (although that may have happened as well). But Jesus was transfigured, called and claimed once more, and signaled change. That mountaintop experience signaled that change was going to happen, that it might be difficult, but most importantly, it was needed. There is no need for the crucifixion if Jesus isn’t declared the son of God, right? Which means our salvation doesn’t happen without the transfiguration.
So now instead of understanding what the transfiguration is, maybe we should wrestle with the why. That mountaintop signals a change of Jesus being just a thorn in the side of the Roman empire to being a hunted man. The mountaintop signals going from just talking about capturing and killing Jesus to actual attempts. The mountaintop also signals a change in the disciples. We see Peter go from loyalty to outright denial. The other disciples change from learning to confusion. But throughout all of this change, who and what remains the same? Jesus. Always Jesus.
Jesus was the same person before he went up the mountain and he was the same person as he came down. Jesus didn’t change. Our perception and the disciples perception of Jesus changed. Jesus didn’t change. Jesus has been clear about who he is, what he does and will do, and how he will do it. The disciples just didn’t want to hear it; maybe we don’t either. No matter what happens in our lives, the one consistent constant is Jesus. When we rejoice in change, Jesus is there. When we lament at change, Jesus is there. When we are in a time of transition and change, Jesus is there.
We can tend to navel gaze. We look inward, worry only about ourselves, panic over the not yet, play millions of scenarios in our heads, and often forget a few things. God is already present wherever we’re going. God’s plan is always much better than anything we could ever plan. God through Jesus Christ is present with us not only in times of change but also each and every moment of every day. I’m not telling you not to worry. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t fear change. I’m not telling you that change shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. I want to remind you that change is always done in the company of Jesus and initiated by God and accompanied by the Holy Spirit. We know who Jesus is, we know what Jesus does and can do, we know how Jesus changes the world. More importantly, we know who we are in Jesus: called and claimed. The cross has already changed us and continues to change us. In the midst of change always comes comfort, love, and reassurance that Jesus is always with us, has never abandoned us, and never will.