Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
Having white cloths is a sign of hard work and diligent labor. This is especially true in a time before we had washing machines, detergents with whitening agents, or bluing dyes. before we had washing machines, detergents with whitening agents, or bluing dyes. Jesus is traveling on dirt roads, hiking up the mountain, and being touched by people of all walks of life. His clothes would not be white. And from our modern perspective he would look like a transient, or a character out of Dickens’ Oliver Twist; filthy and dirty. Though to be fair, this is how many people would look like, especially after a long journey in the first century.
Today on this last Sunday of Epiphany we have Christ who is transfigured. His appearance changed. His clothing shines brighter than can be imagined. In both this Gospel and in Luke’s account we don’t know how Christ was changed, but it seems impressive enough to be mention beyond his bright clothing. Though we don’t know exactly what this change meant for Christ, we know what it means for us.
With God, transformation is possible. Christ’s transfiguration is not the extent of his brightness. We call him the Light of the world. And Paul today says Christ is the Light that shines out of darkness. He says this light is the light that shines in our heats. It is the light of the knowledge of God. This light is God radiating in the face of Jesus Christ; Christ being the perfect reflection of God.
Many of us do not feel this radiance; we do not feel the brightness shining within us let alone coming from us. We have our jobs, our families; kids and grandkids, cooking and dishes, strained relationships with friends or loved ones. We may feel more like the disciples being enveloped by a cloud then the radiance of Christ. And I wonder if this is because the world has such a tight grip on our lives and we do not make time to be alone with Christ.
Paul says, “our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” “The god of this world has blinded [their] minds.” But the vail that we feel, this veil that separates us from God is in our controlee. Three disciples go up the mountain alone with Christ and there Christ is reviled as something different than they have seen before. He is with Moses who brought the Law, and Elijah the prophet. Jesus stands radiating light with the law and the prophets on either side. By being alone with Christ, they experience a new nature of Christ, in which his light radiates brightly upon them. Though they admit being afraid, I think it was also exhilarating. Peter doesn’t run in fear, he wants to stay there; he wants to make huts for them. But this time is fleeting. They get to the top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured, and as soon as they can think of anything to say, they are overshadowed by a cloud.
This wasn’t just a mountaintop experience which fills them with the Holy Spirit. Many of us have felt an emotional high when praising God, singing music, or on a weekend retreat. This type of experience is somewhat predictable. You know what to do or where to go to be filled with the Spirit. But having a more intimate experience with God is rare and fleeting much like the apostle's encounter. As soon as you recognize something special is happening, the experience ends like suddenly waking from a dream. But the feelings or message received lingers on. Like the disciples, you cannot set out to have such an encounter. They just happen, unexpectedly, when we are alone or in solitude. These encounters from what I can tell often happen with a budding new faith, much like Paul who just ten verses earlier declares Jesus the Messiah. But they also happen to others, sometimes with people whose faith is in transition.
Lent provides us with the opportunity; actually, it calls us to deepen our spiritual life. We are called to take these coming 40 days to remember our past, ask forgiveness, to intentional take on practices that will deepen our relationship with Christ. To do this takes time, time we set aside to be with Christ alone. We do this not so we can have an experience with God, though that could happen. We do this, not so we can be a better person, though that can happen also. We do this so that we can be transformed.
This transformation isn’t bright shining cloths; this transformation allows us to let Christ’s light shine deeper into our hearts, deeper into our souls, into our very being. The transformation allows us to reflect this light of Christ onto other people and the world around us. Even if we never have a personal encounter with God we can be transformed. We can come off the mountain knowing that God is not the god of this world. We can be freed from the worldly cloud that enshrouds us so that we can follow the Gospel and Christ in deeper and deeper ways; in which we are enshrouded by his love and light.