We do not have the privilege of the disciples, walking with Jesus, praying with Jesus, seeing him heal and teach. We are lucky if we manage to have one of those life-changing, neck hair-raising experiences of the Holy Spirit—and even luckier if we realize that one of those experiences has happened.
When Peter, James, and John climb up on a mountain to pray with Jesus, they do so after a weeks-long discipleship orientation. They were there when Jesus calmed the storm, fed the thousands, and healed the widow’s son at Nain; they were there when Jesus told parable after parable and when he preached a sermon on the plain.
In a quiet moment, Jesus asks his friends who the crowds say that he is. Some think John the Baptist, some Elijah, others think one of the prophets of old.
“But who do you say that I am,” Jesus presses further.
Peter, in a moment of clarity and zeal, proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Jesus says. In order to do what he is meant to, he has to catch everyone by surprise, to push those in power to their limits, and to show the world a different way to exist. Jesus has to show the powerful that everything they have that they think brings life is only temporary. Following him might mean losing the stuff that doesn’t bring joy—Jesus was a student of Marie Kondo apparently. “If you really want to follow me,” Jesus says, “you’re going to have to put your trust in me—you’re going to have to believe that what I am telling you will save you from losing yourself.
One week after this, Jesus and the disciples climb the mountain.
As they pray Jesus’ face changes, and his clothes become a dazzling white. Two men appear at Jesus’ side—Moses and Elijah—and the three are talking with each other about what will take place in Jerusalem and what Jesus will accomplish. The disciples become more fully alert and realize that something significant is happening.
Peter wants to capture the moment—to make it last beyond that day perhaps. Building a dwelling place is not unlike taking a selfie, in that way. And there are just some occasions when it is simply inappropriate to take a selfie.
Almost as soon as Peter makes his suggestion, a cloud surrounds them all and a voice comes from it and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listento him!”
This may remind you of not long ago, when the same disembodied voice said to Jesus following his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Two divine proclamations from a disembodied voice in the clouds declare that Jesus’ identity is intensely intimate with God. Two proclamations call Jesus “Son” and affirm his unique role. These two proclamations raise more questions about Jesus than they answer, and the whole scene must leave Peter, James, and John feeling a bit perplexed, a bit overwhelmed, and perhaps also inspired.
They will need that inspiration for what is about to come because not long after, Jesus will “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
This occasion, the last Sunday of the Epiphany—Transfiguration Sunday, as it is often called—also marks the beginning of a significant journey. The Season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we bury the word “Alleluia,” we adorn our church in violet, and we observe practices that are more penitential in nature.
On a more personal level, Lent is a time to examine ourselves—our behaviors, practices, and our level of mindfulness. Some pray more, some eat or drink less, and one friend of mine feels that vanity is too strong a force in her life, so she covers up the mirrors in her home for 40 days (well, 46 if you include the Sundays).
I always think of her Lenten practice of covering up mirrors when I read Paul’s note to the Corinthians about seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror. A mirror may actually not be a bad metaphor for the type of examination we are called to in this season. The practices in which we engage, cause us to look carefully at ourselves, and they hopefully draw us more deeply inward. We place a heavier emphasis on confession, both individual and corporate. And we consider shedding off those things that keep us from experiencing grace and from spreading joy.
Another friend of mine will ask his parish this morning if they ever find themselves with their faith on autopilot…if they are hoping for holiness by osmosis. It may be the case that we keep going up to the mountain, hoping for some sort of experience, when what Jesus may be calling us to do is to dig into our values and beliefs and prepare for our own journeys. If there is any time for that kind of self-examination, Lent is that time.
We do not have the privilege of walking with Jesus as the disciples did, but we still must answer for ourselves who wethink that he is. If he is merely a teacher, are we following his life-giving instruction? If he is a prophet, how will his truth affect us and our society? And if he is the Christ, who does that make us as Christians?
Are we living into the baptismal life we have been called into, and if we have not been baptized, is this the moment we need to begin a new life in Christ?
When Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, he will invite them to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Through this invitation to pray with Jesus to “our” father, Jesus invites us all to participate in his divine life. When we listen to Jesus, when we pray with Jesus, when we try to love like Jesus, we share in the life of Jesus and we behave like the Body of Christ we are called to be.