Let’s set the scene: there is a mountain, there must have been clouds since we hear a voice come from out the clouds … then, there is Jesus. Three special friends, a face shining like the sun, clothes dazzling white, a voice from a cloud! Something powerful is occurring here. And, it’s more than the disciples can comprehend. They knew Jesus was someone special. They’d known Him as a teacher, a healer, even a prophet… but that did not capture His full identity. Peter gets it “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” But his human understanding did not grasp the full meaning of what he said.
Peter recognizes that Jesus’ dazzling appearance in the presence of Moses and Elijah is significant–“Lord, it is good for us to be here!” His suggestion to build three booths, or dwelling places sounds like an attempt to capture the moment, to preserve for safekeeping this frightening experience. Imagine Peter (the extrovert par excellence) , jumping up and down with his hand in the air, like a child desperate to give the right answer, but who cannot quite get it right because he does not fully understand the question.
In his attempt to make sense of the magnificent transformation taking place before his eyes, Peter tries to talk it out, to speak words for the unspeakable event. While he is still speaking, a bright cloud overshadows all of them and a voice interrupts: “This is my Son, my Beloved; in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
A stunned silence follows. The four-some turns to go back down the mountain. And Jesus asks them to tell no one what they experienced UNTIL He has been raised from the dead.
There are times when it is best to be quiet. Times when we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. There is more going on than what our physical eyes can see or understand. We have entered a mystery that can neither be defined nor discussed, only experienced.
There are moments like that in every life. Lovers gazing at each other see more than just another person. They have been brought face to face with the mystery of love. Parents and grandparents will recall when they beheld for the very first time the new baby in the family. They see more than a baby. They are face to face with the mystery of life. We’ve all seen a little child squealing with excitement. It is more than excitement. That child has come face to face with the mystery of deep joy. Recall a time you made a confession, formal or informal, and experienced the forgiveness of God or another person. It was about much more than words, past behavior, and the memory of estrangement. You came face to face with the mystery of grace. And, many of us have been with a dying confrere, or parent, or friend. We waited and watched for the person to be carried into new life. We came face to face with the mystery of death.
These are the moments of transfiguration. Each one of them is distinct, unique, and unrepeatable. Yet they are somehow the same. Each one is so transparent, so real, they glow with the light of God’s presence. They are moments of pure grace. We cannot make them happen. We can only be there when it does happen. Thus, the importance of simply living in the present moment where everything around us seems to fall away. It is a moment of pure, complete presence.
That is what happened to Peter, James, and John on the mountain. They “looked up and saw only Jesus.” This was as much their transfiguration as it was Jesus’. They didn’t just see the light they were absorbed into the light!
Jesus did not become something he was not before that night on the mountain. He was always filled with the glory of God. He didn’t become something new; but the disciples did. In a flash of insight they saw the world with God’s eyes. For, you see, transfiguration is not so much about what we see as it is about how we see. As long as we see only with our physical eyes, we will always be looking for something … looking over the fences of our own reality for that greener grass on the other side of the fence.