2.22.2015 Preaching Text: “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” (Mark 9:7)
As most of you know, I’m continually amazed at the role the media play in determining how we experience the weather, particularly winter. We are told early and often during their dire forecasts and more general banter that we should be distraught by the catastrophic presence of snow.
Now I realize snow does cause hardship for many, particularly the elderly. It forces some to become homebound, even as it multiplies the attendant risks of life and limb. Businesses don’t fare particularly well either.
Even still, the gloomy pessimism the media help create produces a very real and unrelenting mood of despair. People get depressed. They feel down. Any additional snow becomes an unmitigated disaster.
Real hardship notwithstanding, I like snow. It’s dramatic, and it’s beautiful. I even like going out and shoveling it (to a point, that is!). It’s good exercise and I usually end up feeling invigorated and alive. I’d much rather look out at a yard filled with glistening white than drab, dead brown grass and lifeless-looking trees amid a “neither fish nor fowl” temperature of 35-40 degrees!
But getting back to my earlier point, I genuinely worry about the state of mind many people have this time of year – especially this year. I worry about how all this over-hyping and exaggerating casts a pall, producing dark moods that seriously, adversely affect people.
In those rare moments when I too feel oppressed by winter, I try to remember one simple fact: somewhere out there the sun is shining brightly! I image that someplace on earth the sun is glistening off blue-green waters, its warmth and brilliance both powerful and strong.
Back in September, when Linda’s sister was dying, and as our family’s world seemed unrelievedly dark, I found myself thinking about this, about the constancy of the sun. Even though our world was covered momentarily with black clouds, the sun was still shining brightly, out there, somewhere above it all.
The Transfiguration serves as a similar kind of reminder. In Mark, the Transfiguration account occurs mid-point in the gospel, signaling the end of the first phase of Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of his resolve to journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
This journey will be hard and unrelenting. It will be painful and, at times, dark and dispiriting. Yet it is necessary.
So Mark highlights the Transfiguration, that moment when the curtain that separates this world from the next is momentarily opened, revealing God’s transcendent power and glory.
Not without reason do the disciples wish to stay there, despite their fears. They know they have encountered a glimpse of the holy, of the divine.
Yet Jesus leads them back down the mountain, back under the clouds where human needs and unfulfilled longings shall be their steady diet. Jesus even tells them not to speak of the Transfiguration again until after he has been raised from the dead.
But why? If, as Jesus counsels, we dare not speak its name, what is the point of the Transfiguration?
It’s not without reason that the liturgical year always includes the Transfiguration as the gospel reading for the last Sunday of Epiphany. Not only does it represent the culmination of the light of Christ shining forth into a darkened world (begun in the manger), but it is presented to us as preparation for our Lenten journey down the mountain, on our way to the wilderness, the passion, and, ultimately, the cross.
In the Transfiguration we’re shown but for a moment the divine glory that shall be ours, at the finishing line, at the conclusion of all our striving, not just in Lent but throughout the entirety of our lives. It is that rare glimpse of what Christianity promises, and what the cross and the resurrection presage: the brilliance of God’s light fully manifest in our lives.
Tim Keller, Christian author and pastor, argues that many today misperceive this and other miracles found in the Bible. In our scientific-materialistic age, that is, we think of miracles, if we believe in them at all, as a suspension of natural law.
He argues just the opposite. He says that miracles are God’s way of re-establishing natural law, as it was at creation. In this view, the Transfiguration is not a momentary blip within history, but a momentary glimpse of the way the world really is! And shall be!
The implications of this are profound. If true, this means that the darkness and the gloom and doom of much of everyday life is actually false. It’s not real. It’s a distortion of what is true and right.
Which is to say that the brilliance of the sun reveals the greater truth of life, and not the overcast bleakness of, say, a winter’s day. The Transfiguration, as such, is a reminder that the brilliance of God’s glory and the healing light of God’s presence is the greater truth, while suffering and decay is a lie.
As we enter Lent, as we walk with Jesus amidst the desert’s depravations and as we face the inevitable trials and tribulations endemic to each and every life, we live in the confident hope, the truth, of Christ’s resurrection promise of healing, wholeness, full and complete restoration, forgiveness, grace, love, and unending, eternal life.
This means that we do not succumb to the cosmic forecasters who continually issue forth a steady diet of doom and gloom. As Christians, in other words, we will not despair or lose hope. For we know that the sun shines brilliantly high above even the darkest of clouds. Amen.