I wonder about this.
This is an amazing story. A beautiful story. A story that, even though we may be very familiar with it still has the ability to affect us… physically, as well as emotionally. There are times when this story makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. And it makes me wonder.
So that is what I want to do with you, this morning. I want to wonder, aloud, about this story. Some things that we wonder, we can look up. They are things that are already on the record. But it’s the other things we wonder about… that’s where the mystery is, and that’s where we have an opportunity to really enter into this story, as if we were there.
First of all, our story begins with this phrase: “Six days later.” And I wonder: six days later than what? This is one of those “look it up” wonderings. And when I did look it up, earlier this week, I thought, “Oh, that.” (That was my best impression of the disciple Peter.) Six days earlier, Jesus began to show his friends and followers
—Note that. Not tell, but show—
Jesus began to show them that this was all leading to something they did not like one bit: Jesus was going to Jerusalem, and when he was there, he was going to suffer, and then he was going to be crucified. And then on the third day, he was going to be raised.
And there was a fight about all this. Peter took Jesus aside, and said, No, no way, don’t you say that, what are you, nuts? I’m paraphrasing. That’s my version of “rebuking.” Peter rebuked Jesus.
And Jesus straightened him out. He said, “In for a penny, in for a pound, my friend. If you’re with me, you’ll all be carrying crosses too. If you’re not, get out now, and stop annoying me with your inability to see what’s really happening.” Again, I’m paraphrasing.
So. That happened six days ago.
Next, I wonder: Why are just these three people going up the mountain with Jesus? Is Jesus bringing his closest friends with him? His lieutenants? Is he bringing the ones whose faith is strongest? The ones whose faith is wavering? Or maybe… the ones with whom he has been in conflict?
And then, boom, we’re in the middle of it—IT—the big event. The thing that happened. I wonder what it was like? Transfigured. Jesus was “transfigured before them.” I looked at some other translations of this word. (You can do that at Biblegateway.com, if you’re interested.) “Transfigured” is the traditional English translation, the one we find in the King James Bible. One version says, “transformed.” But listen to this: It’s from The Message paraphrase by Eugene Peterson:
His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light.
I wonder how everyone knew that those two were Moses and Elijah, the ones talking with Jesus. The most common interpretation is that Moses must have had the tablets of the law with him, and Elijah, the one the crooked king called “the troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17), must have been dressed in the way described in scripture: “A hairy man,” or, “A man with a hairy garment, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). But I wonder whether it had nothing at all to do with visual cues: Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah. Maybe it had to do with what they were talking about? Maybe they were swapping prophet, servant-of-God type stories.
Maybe Moses was telling Jesus about the time when he went up a high mountain to meet with God, to receive the law for the people.
Maybe Elijah was commiserating with Jesus, because he too knew what it was like to be on the outs with the people in power.
And I wonder why Peter always gets criticized for what he says next, his offer to set up some tents or booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Maybe he was just trying to do something thoughtful. Maybe it was a desire to give Jesus what Peter thought he needed: time apart, time with other storied servants of God, others who knew what the work felt like. I wonder why Peter is always the one who gets in trouble for speaking out.
I wonder how a cloud can be bright, and at the same time cast a shadow?
I wonder what the voice from the cloud sounded like? Deep and sonorous… like Charlton Heston? Or light and musical… like Alison Krauss, a singing kind of God? Or did it maybe sound different to everyone who heard it? I wonder whether the sound of God’s voice was the most beautiful sound that could be imagined, for each person present…?
I wonder why the voice from the cloud said, “Listen to him?” Was God weighing in on that six-days ago thing? Or, was God affirming Jesus’ understanding of the road ahead? Or, was God signaling that Jesus was about to tell them something vitally important? All of it? Something else?
I wonder what it would be like to be down on the ground on my face, shaking with fear because the voice of the God of all the universe had just surged through me like 10,000 volts of electricity, and yet I was still alive. That’s the thing with God. C. S. Lewis reminded us: God is good. God is king. But God certainly isn’t safe. And wouldn’t that be absolutely clear to anyone who was on the top of a mountain, in the presence storied prophets, listening to God’s voice?
And I wonder what was it like to feel the touch of Jesus on your shoulder, your back? To hear the familiar, beloved voice, saying, “Get up! Don’t be afraid.” And to finally pry your eyes open to see… the same Jesus, the one we knew, the one we loved, and fought with, and followed… the one who was enigmatic, and frustrating, and bewitching when he got going with the storytelling… the one we’d die for, or so we thought… to see no one but Jesus. Himself. Alone. Get up! Don’t be afraid! I wonder how long it took them to get up? To not be afraid?
And I wonder… why all the secrecy, Jesus? Because, once again, Jesus is saying, “Don’t tell…” not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. That’s like saying, until the one who definitely dies stops being dead.
And I wonder, what happened next? We can look that up… waiting at the bottom of the mountain is a crowd. And a man who pushes to the front of the crowd, because his beloved son is suffering from dangerous seizures. And Jesus, the one who’s just heard his heavenly father saying words of love and care… of course, he goes, right away, his heart swelling with empathy for someone so downhearted and afraid. Down the mountain, and right to work. Of course.
I wonder how this experience lingered the three who witnessed it. Would it have lingered with me? Will it?
I wonder how the others felt about it. Did they feel they missed something important? Were they just as glad not to be in the terrifying presence of God Almighty? Did everyone understand, only much, much later?
I wonder how we feel about it? Does it feel like an experience or a dream? Something real or something legendary? When we want a revolution, why does Jesus insist on a revelation?
And I wonder: Can we, for just a moment, instead of doing, simply stand and experience Jesus… his appearance changing from the inside out, and sunlight pouring from his face, and light filling his clothes?
Can we, instead of moving onto the next thing, stand (or, maybe, cower) in the holy presence of the one who, no matter what we think about it, is resolute in his path towards the cross?
Can we ponder what it means to be invited along for that journey? Can we let his light fill us?
And then: Can we let him lead us on to what’s next, to the work at the bottom of the mountain, caring for the last, the least, and the lost of all God’s beloved children?
Thanks be to God. Amen.