That being said, the gospel passage for this day that describes the transfiguration is a strange one. If you remember, Jesus goes up a high mountain with his four most trusted followers. One assumes that it was a difficult hike and it took some time to reach the peak. One would believe that the view was spectacular; looking out over almost the entire known world of the time. A beautiful setting to let silence descend and to pause and name those things for which we are most grateful. A perfect environment to give thanks to God for the gift of life itself. It was clearly a thin place as the Celts might name it, or a holy place, or somewhere where the distance between God and ourselves seems small, even insignificant. Perhaps you know these kinds of places well, I certainly have experienced a number.
But then, to be honest things in the reading get a little strange. The Bible tells us that Jesus was transfigured before them, his clothes became dazzling white almost glowing and then Moses and Elijah appeared. A voice is heard from a cloud that enveloped the group: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
I don’t know about you but I have never experienced anything like this. A nearness to God, yes; but glowing garments and a visit by Elijah and Moses followed by a voice coming from a cloud, I have not. It seems so different from our experience of life and of the presence of God.
But then… as I thought about this I started to see this passage as a parable than a factual event. I started to see it as something that I have experienced and my guess is so have you. It was really all about that mountain-top experience that I referred to earlier that many people of faith have known. That sense of a holy presence in a grand cathedral, or the nearness of God in nature, or the power of love when a child is born or even when an adult dies or the feeling that we are not alone and in a time of darkness the hand of God is felt, or the compassion of another which goes beyond simply an accidental interaction but in fact God seems very close, or that we are tasting of holy things or the knowledge that indeed God has blessed us, richly blessed us. I could go on but if you have known anything even similar then you know what I am talking about. This is the experience that I think the Transfiguration is talking about. The description was of Jesus being transfigured on that mountain top is really putting words on those incredibly deep and profound moments that are hard to describe to someone else but those times where faith is not a choice but a recognition of something going on around and within us. This Bible passage is just as much about us being transformed by this presence of God.
I have discovered and so have you I am sure that these mountain-top experiences of faith where we feel the presence of God very near do not last forever. At some point we have to come down off the mountain and live our lives in the real world. A world filled with people who believe and those who do not, people who see violence as a way forward and those who do not, people who want to gain as many riches as they can in this world and those who want to build a stronger sense of community, people who are only interested in their own gain and those who live with a much bigger picture. You know the range I don’t need to tell you but the reality is that it is hard to live out our life of faith in the world when we come down the mountain. The trick, I think, is to seek out more mountain top places and to recognise the voice and presence of God still in our world of today. God not hidden in clouds but God is known amongst us and with us.
I would like to encourage you to listen a little more carefully for that voice of God. To seek out places not necessarily grand places but places where we take a moment to listen to that voice of God calling us beloved. For Jesus’ transfiguration was not just about seeing God’s light shining in him but also recognizing God’s light in us as well. Keep listening for that voice.
Seek out that Spirit of God in your daily living. Keep looking for places to recognize the Holy Spirit stirring in our world. Keep noticing that we see signs all over, signs of beauty, wonder, peace, compassion, wholeness in many different areas of our world and our lives. Pay attention to them for they are gifts, mountain-top gifts.
God can seem to be so distant and removed from our lives and this passage describing the Transfiguration can only add to that. But the real point was to see that in Christ we recognize that God is not removed from us but that one of Jesus’ nicknames was Emmanuel, not a mere word but a description of God existing with us.
As Lent begins this Wednesday, and ashes are imposed on our foreheads, may it be sign of wanting to seek out more mountain-top experiences among the ordinary experiences. Search for them, notice them, pay attention to them, listen to them, be touched by them. For they are telling you something, mostly to pay more attention to your spiritual life and your spiritual wellbeing. May that light continue shine and grow in you as you are transfigured and transformed over the coming forty days of Lent.