Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Transfiguration Sunday, Year A
February 23, 2020
Lessons: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people look for and see glimpses of Christ’s true nature and glory in our world every day.
Key Scriptures: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. — 2 Peter 1:16
While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” — Matthew 17:5
Some moviegoers may take issue with having to sit through 15 minutes of previews for other films, but I’ve always enjoyed these “sneak peeks” of other works. Of course even the most well-crafted preview affords only a hint of the story and the directorial vision of the film. The key is to entice patrons by giving them “just enough” to ensure they’ll return to the theater in the future.
Matthew’s story of the Transfiguration strikes me as something like a movie preview. We’re not ready yet for the full production, for the glory of God, but we need a little preview to keep us focused and wanting more. In fact, I can almost envision this “sneak peek” with the highest quality digital projection and Dolby surround sound. It’s a defining moment for Peter, James, and John. For a brief time they encounter the full glory of the LORD. Instead of not-so-regular Rabbi Jesus, his closest followers find themselves face down and fearful in the presence of the Cosmic Christ, God the Father, Moses, and Elijah. There must have been a little Holy Spirit work going on because Peter doesn’t have access to Google images to make sure these guys with Jesus were indeed a couple of the rock stars of Israel’s history.
Somehow Peter just knows, and he does what any normal human would do in the same situation. He tries the first century equivalent of FOMO (fear of missing out) and social media documentation. Without the access to platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok, Peter relies on an attempt to build his own platform. Three platforms, in fact, to house these amazing beings: Peter is thinking big. As always, God is thinking bigger, eyeing the big picture, not just the preview. God interrupts Peter with an important clarifying announcement: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” Preview over and life goes on.
In fact, Jesus tells them two important things: 1) don’t be afraid, and 2) keep the full story under wraps until the big Easter premiere. Then they all get back to the work of ministry and faith formation (i.e. discipleship).
What, then, does the Transfiguration have to do with followers of Jesus today? Surely it’s more than a reference to movie previews. Indeed, it is. I’m quite sure that the Holy Spirit can work through a movie preview to give one a glimpse of the glory of the Lord, but one can experience a mountaintop Transfiguration moment almost anywhere if we but pay attention. Mystics, artists, poets, and others invite us to experience Transfiguration. Here are three examples from poets who help me understand the full measure of the Lord’s glory and how we see so very little around us with clarity and depth.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries…
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
— Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
— William Blake, from “Auguries of Innocence”
No matter how you approach your preaching and teaching about the Transfiguration this year, I hope you will offer folks a preview through this story, a small moment of bright hope and promise of the true scope of the Cosmic Christ and the Holy Trinity. I encourage you to help folks pay attention to every moment, place, and encounter. Truly, all of creation is holy ground, and we are in this life being transfigured for the kindom yet to come. Blessings on your ministry and faithful servant leadership!
Invite worshipers to pay attention, to sit quietly for a few moments and take in everything around them. Draw them into mindful awareness of where they are, who they are with, and where God is found in this place. If possible engage in a dialogue with anyone willing to share. Where did they experience (feel, see, sensed) God’s presence in this place? How did that feel?
Now invite worshipers to think back to the past week. Were there times when what seemed like an ordinary experience might have been a Transfiguration moment, a time to see Jesus at work in the world in full glory? Were there people who reflected the face of Christ and blessed you through that experience?
Going forward invite worshipers to be on the lookout for God sightings, Transfiguration glimpses, and Holy Spirit winds. Make sharing these glimpses a part of every worship service. Begin to pay attention. In the process be ready to find signs of God all over the place.
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Matthew 17:5b
Peter, James, and John got direct instruction from God in the form of a voice booming from a bright cloud. They now knew that Jesus wasn’t just any old rabbi or radical; he was indeed God’s son, their long-awaited Messiah. The news must have been both joyous and terrifying. On top of that, Jesus tells them to keep their lips zipped about the experience until “after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9b). What a secret to keep, a memory to file away!
In our epistle lesson this week (2 Peter 1:16-21), Peter is now able to tell about this mountaintop experience of seeing Jesus transfigured and encountering his full glory and majesty. What good news to share!
How do we today listen to Jesus? How do we experience glimpses of transfiguration, of seeing God at work in our world—restoring, transforming, loving—in and through both ordinary and extraordinary experiences and people?
Consider using these lines from poet Mary Oliver for your discussion:
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
This week’s focus verse is 2 Peter 1:18: We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Peter tells Jesus followers about his mountaintop experience with James and John. Finally released with full details after all these years!
We like to be in the know, to understand what’s going on around us, right? That’s why I still enjoy reading the newspaper. I can buy a paper copy (and then use the paper for other purposes), or I can read online using my iPad or laptop or even my phone. Can you imagine what big news this was for Peter to share?
Finally, he is able to tell how he saw Jesus for who he truly is—God’s Son, Divine Love, the Messiah. And he and James and John got to see it firsthand. Well guess what? We can see glimpses of who Jesus really is today. The funny thing is the more you look for Jesus, the more you see him at work in the world, in the faces of friends and strangers, in so many good things that happen around us. I see the face of Jesus in every one of you, and that makes me so happy.
In fact, when we see Jesus at work in the world, setting things right, bringing love and hope, and weaving together the kindom forever, we are just a little more transfigured, too. We continue to grow as disciples/followers of Jesus, and in the process we are being changed.
Here’s an example that you can try this week. When you’re out with your adults or at school and you see someone who looks down, smile at them and imagine that through your face Jesus is smiling at them. Most of the time you’ll get a smile in return. It’s that simple to start spreading God’s love! It’s that simple to participate in transfiguring this world into the kindom of God. Let’s pray together.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us) and for showing us (and for showing us), your glory and wonder (your glory and wonder). Help us to reflect your love (Help us to reflect your love) to everybody we see (to everybody we see) every day. (every day) Amen. (Amen.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
As stewards of the good news of Jesus and the glory of God, we look for God sightings every day and pay attention to what God is up to in the world.
Stewardship at Home
Who might need to see a little more Jesus this week? Who do you know that needs to know God loves them? Who needs to see Christ through your actions and words and presence? Pay attention to how God may want to work through you this week. You may just be surprised!
2014 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/02/listen-up-disciples-2/
2011 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/03/listen-up-disciples/
Images: Derek M. Swanson; Britt Fuller; and SOLI, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2020, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.