Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
This coming Wednesday marks the beginning of the forty days before Easter. It’s the season of Lent. Today we already get hints of that season. In today’s first reading Moses climbs to the top of a mountain for forty days to discern God’s will.
This is what Lent is all about: taking forty days to look for signs of God’s presence, to think about what God is doing in our lives, and how that might lead us to change the way we think and live.
Before and after the forty days are two Sundays we might call “bookends.” The first Sunday is today—the Transfiguration of our Lord. The second Sunday is Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord. I call them bookends because they’re so much alike—and, they hold the Lenten season together. One begins the Lenten journey. The other completes it. In between is the season of Lent.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is about a strange, mystical vision. On that mountaintop Jesus’ disciples experienced the power and presence of God in a way they hadn’t before. Jesus’ appearance was changed, or “transfigured.” His face and clothing became dazzlingly bright. Later, any good Jew who heard this story immediately would’ve made a connection with the story of Moses. They would have remembered that Moses also ascended a mountain, where his face became dazzlingly bright. In fact, at the transfiguration (in case anybody missed the connection) Moses himself shows up!
These bookends are two stories of God’s glory. But the transfiguration of Jesus can be a trap. It looks like resurrection: the bright lights, the appearance of giants in the faith—how could it get any better than that? In fact, although he was terrified Peter didn’t want the experience to stop. “Lord, it is good that we are here…” Peter wanted to hang on to the experience.
Transfiguration can be a trap. We look around us and we see signs of hope and signs of change and signs of God’s presence–and settle for that. But Easter will show us that although transfiguration looks like the very best God has to offer it’s not the same thing as resurrection.
I’ve been thinking about that in our life together as a congregation. This has been an exciting year so far. Less than a month ago you put flesh on the bones of our commitment to love and welcome all people by becoming a Reconciling-in-Christ congregation. Shortly before that we were invited to share in the joy of a wedding this coming July. And on top of that, 2011 is the 65th anniversary of Lakeridge Lutheran. Lots of reasons to celebrate! We are experiencing something new, seeing God at work in ways we haven’t seen before.
It’s a bit like…transfiguration! Just as Peter and his friends wanted to hang on to a vision that soon vanished, we might be tempted to settle for snapshots of God’s power and presence here and there. But if we settle for what’s here today and gone tomorrow, we might miss out on a new life and a new direction that endures—something far more deep and satisfying. We could miss out on resurrection.
For those disciples the vision of Jesus’ transfiguration hinted at the past. They were only able to see how their experience was similar to what had happened to Moses and his people many centuries before. We, too, might be tempted to think of this year’s church celebrations as echoes of what we remember from years gone by.
The past is good! It’s the foundation upon which we build. And yet, it’s only half the story. The transfiguration of Jesus hinted not only at the past but of something far greater, more powerful and more lasting in the future. Transfiguration was a powerful vision, but–only temporary. Easter, on the other hand, was about lasting changes–in human lives and human history. The disciples couldn’t know this at Jesus’ transfiguration, of course. We don’t blame them for not being able to see into the future. We can’t see into the future, either. And yet, the transfiguration should make us sit up and take notice. Learning from this story we might do well to look forward as much as we look back, looking for hints and signs of something far greater than what we see now, and maybe even greater than what we’ve seen in the past.
One way to prepare for Easter is to spend the season of Lent alert to hints of God’s greater glory in the future. As you reflect on our life together and on your own life, what signs do you see of new life? What signs of God’s kingdom on earth? What signs of hope? What signs of peace and reconciliation? What signs of joy?
Or, during Lent we might take time to reflect on our lives and ponder what is preventing us from experiencing hope, peace, joy and new life? What is it that keeps us worried, or angry or discouraged or fearful? Fear is a big one, isn’t it? Notice that Jesus’ friends are terrified, and he says to them, “Don’t be afraid.” Or, what keeps us nursing grudges or old wounds? What keeps us stuck in the past, or, preoccupied in the present, unable to focus on the future?
Traditionally, Lent has been a season in which Christians “give something up.” The idea is to open ourselves up, to take the time and the money and energy we save and devote it more fully to God. There’s value in that, but not so much unless it leads to lasting change. What if we began thinking about giving up one thing—just one thing—that keeps us stuck? Could you, for example, give up a grudge during this season of Lent? You can give up chocolate if you want, but what is chocolate compared to giving up self-pity, or bitterness, or anger, or impatience, or self-righteousness, or isolation, or stubbornness? What about letting go of grief that has long outlived its usefulness? Or, how about letting go of busy-ness for a season? These are habits of the heart, but we often justify our habits—even the bad ones. Most of us, I think, can look at our lives and see evidence of many of these habits. But what if each of us were to prayerfully work on just one of these? What kind of lasting change might that lead to that blesses not only ourselves but others?
God gives us hints of better things to come. But God does not desire that we settle for something that’s here today and gone tomorrow, like a dream. It’s said that making just one lasting change in one area of our lives can shift the direction of our whole life. I believe that! What is holding you back from resurrection?
One final thing: At Jesus’ transfiguration a voice was heard that said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” You also are God’s beloved! May your Lenten journey be full of hints at God’s future glory revealed among us. May you listen for the voice of Jesus–and may you settle for nothing less in this life than resurrection!