This week’s passage is a very familiar one, and has been written and preached about so many times that there is not much for me to add. I will note, though, a couple of things that struck me.
The Uniqueness of Jesus
When the Transfiguration happens, it must have been a moment of strong emotions for the disciples. Some commenters posit that it was fear or even terror, while others posit that in the presence of the Lord one would only feel awe, not fear. For me, I go with C.S. Lewis’s observation that the first words out of the mouths of angels is always “Fear not!” So, I suspect that Peter, James, and John were terrified.
Leave it to Peter to deal with fear by opening his mouth. It’s almost as if Peter has a life instruction manual with one rule written in it: “When in doubt, talk.” So of course, he interrupts the proceedings to suggest building tabernacles for each of the shining beings in front of him.
Do you catch what happens, though? Peter puts them all on the same footing — an equal tabernacle for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He is, in effect, putting Jesus in the category of “great prophet” — the same category many people put him in today.
But then, the cloud — the same cloud that figured in the lives of Moses and Elijah, the cloud that represents God the Father — moves over them, and a voice proclaims “THIS is my beloved son — you listen to HIM!”
God makes it plain that while Moses and Elijah were at the top of the spiritually-special food chain, Jesus is on another level entirely … another type, if you will. They are prophets; this is My Son.
The End of the Event
A second thing that struck me when I read this passage was how it ended. “Suddenly, when they looked around, there was no one there but Jesus.” The Greek word for “suddenly” is used only one place in the entire New Testament: this verse.
Suddenly. Poof. Moses, Elijah, the cloud, the voice, the shining clothes — all gone. You look around, and the sun is shining, the birds are twittering, a rock is digging into your knee, and Jesus is standing there saying “Let’s go back down.” And you are left to wonder.
What just happened? What did it mean? I heard a voice — did you hear a voice? Why was Jesus’s clothes changed like that? Was that REALLY Moses and Elijah? Is this the “new normal”? Is Jesus going to do that again every time we walk up a hill? Are WE going to do it when WE walk up a hill?
No answers. No explanation. No rational reason that it happened, and no promise that it won’t happen again. Just an event that happened, seemingly disconnected from what came before and after.
My wife had a counseling practice for many years, and introduced me to a word from that discipline: “processing.” She would come home from an individual or group session, get a class of tea, go sit in her favorite chair, and just think. When I would ask her what she was doing, she would just say “processing.” When I asked her what that meant, she said “I’m replaying in my head what happened in the counseling session, taking it apart and considering all the things it might mean, so that I can make better sense of it, and so that I can gain insights from it for future sessions.
I doubt that any of the disciples would have known the word, but I suspect that they did a lot of processing of this event over the next months and years. I suspect that at the time, it didn’t make any sense at all; but later, after the rest of Jesus’s ministry, after the death and resurrection, after the coming of Holy Spirit — after all that, it went from being an outlier with no rhyme or reason, to being a completely understandable part of the fabric of the Story.
And isn’t this true of us as well? Do we not have moments in our lives where God seems to do something, only to leave us right back where we were, unchanged EXCEPT for the memory of the event? We try to make sense of it, we try to fit it into out lives. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t — and when we can’t, we just file it away and “ponder these things in our hearts.”
I think this is what God calls us to do with all of our lives — process. Reflect, understand, integrate. And when we can’t make it fit, don’t force it; just wait to the time when God reveals more of God’s self to us.
He who has eyes to see, can see Transfigurations all around us. And she who has heart to ponder, to process, can weave these into the fabric of what God is doing in the world — even today.