2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
Have you ever put off sleep in order to get something done?
Maybe in college you stayed up late to study for a midterm. Or you burned the midnight oil finishing a project for your first job, sewing your kid’s Halloween costumes, or simply took advantage of the quiet hours to power through a season of the Sopranos.
How did you feel afterwards?
It turns out that long-term sleep deprivation, which is acknowledged as a form of torture when inflicted on the unwilling, can result in often extremely intense hallucinations. Just twenty-four hours without sleep is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer bouts of sleep deprivation can affect your health and your perception of reality. In 2007, a man in England attempted to break a world record of sleep deprivation, ultimately going over 11 days without sleep while the public monitored him over webcam. After five days, he reported seeing giggling elves and pixies. By day ten, he couldn’t write or think coherently.
I say all of this because the Transfiguration story in the Gospels is an odd one. And if we try to explain it, we can certainly come up with plenty of reasons why it may not have actually happened. Luke’s Gospel tells us that all we have to go on here is the word of a bunch of sleep-deprived disciples, men whose days lately had been consumed with service to needy people and long travels without adequate rest. So maybe all of this was just an illusion.
But I think that misses the point.
Because this story doesn’t depend on what actually happened. It matters because of what this vision tells us about reality, which can be tested.
Consider what happens: Jesus drags his disciples up a mountain after long days of toil for a time of prayer and discernment. In a moment of glory, the disciples see Jesus flanked by Moses and Elijah, who in Jewish tradition stand for the two ways in which God’s will is revealed: the law, and the prophetic tradition.
As the dumb-founded disciples watch, they see the glory of Moses and Elijah reflected on Jesus, but they also see Jesus’ glory reflected back on Moses and Elijah. Each of them shines brighter in the presence of the other. Together, they are brilliant as the sun.
I don’t know about you, but to me there is truth to be found in that moment whether or not it actually happened. The notion that Christ is no lone wolf—rather, Christ stands within a long tradition, carries on a story of God that includes the witness of Moses and of prophets like Elijah, that the voice of God continues today in us—that is a message that we need to hear.
Perhaps we also need to remember that Christ shines brightest in fellowship with others. And if we are made in God’s image, perhaps we are meant to understand that the glory of God for us is also found in community. We shine together. We grow together. We wrestle with the mystery of God in God’s Word together. And as we do, we are not alone—even our ancestors stand beside us, and their witness reveals to us how the light of God strengthened them, and how it may strengthen us too.
But that is not all that this story teachs us. For the glory on the mountain isn’t the end of the story. It is simply the end of Act 1.
Those of you who love theatre know that Act I exists to set the scene—in Act I, you meet the characters, learn what they stand for, what matters to them and why. All of this only matters because of what will happen in Act II. How will they respond to the reality of the world that is before them?
In the Gospels, the mountain sets the stage for the descent. For having come down the mountain, all are changed. They have seen God’s glory; now they must understand what it means. And what the gospel teaches us is that this transformation isn’t a party trick; rather, it is FOR something, and that is ministry in the world.
It is not for no reason that the first thing Jesus encounters on the way down the mountain is a man whose son is bound by the chains that will not let him go. We are meant to understand in this moment that our light, our glory, is for the purpose of banishing the shadows of the world. With God’s help.
Our world is dashing the poor against the rocks of despair, hunger, and abandonment everyday. The economic beast controlled by few demons is making our people convulse day and night. The homeless, the immigrant, the incarcerated, those mothers who work three jobs to make a minimum wage to feed three, four kids, they are like that boy, thrown into the shadows of our society, convulsing day and night right in front of us! And we, who seem to not know anything about the transfiguration of Jesus or our own transfiguration (metamorphoses) are looking at these people while asking Jesus: can we dwell in our worship tabernacles basking in your glory, away from the people and their pressing needs?
God’s glory on the mountain means nothing if we do not put it to use. And we put it to use when we shed light, when we seek to be light, to seek out light in places where light seldom shines. We put it to use when we co-labor with the saints in ministries like Broad Street and West Kensington Minstry, who minister alongside communities imprisoned by homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and gang-violence. We put our light to use when we join our voices with the people at the Warminster Food Cupboard and Synergy Project, who shine a light on food insecurity and youth at risk right here in Bucks County. We put our light to use when we use our gifts for the arts and our love of young people to create safe spaces like Ivyland Community Arts, whose mission is to empower young people by giving them tools to express themselves in healthy and life-affirming ways.
We shine light whenever we welcome a stranger, pray for the sick, and bear witness to injustice in the world.
Let us keep on bearing light, in a world that sorely needs it, from the mountain to the cross.