This is the Sunday of the fantastical and amazing. First, Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire….and then, Jesus is transfigured, changed in form and substance, in front of Peter and James and John — he dazzles them with an unearthly glow, and then Elijah, sans chariot, reappears, along with Moses to chat with Jesus…breaking the whole space/time continuum thing…and then …to top it off, there comes a voice from heaven.
Now that’s quite a show! It better than the Superbowl Halftime show, or the Opening or Closing ceremonies of the Olympics…not exactly something you see every day. Because you and I know that most days are more like …grey skies and dishes in the sink. Paperwork to fill out and people who we try really hard to be patient with. Homework. Commutes. Making dinner. Answering emails. Being put on hold. Sitting in waiting rooms. That’s what our days look like. Not a lot of pizzazz.
And considering we live in the days of pyrotechnics and Elisha and disciples did not… I’m thinking these experiences were even more awe inspiring and out of the ordinary for them. They simply do not jibe with our basic understanding of what is real and what is not. This is not something that should have happened or could have logically happened… and yet…it happened.
So what do we make of these stories?
Could it be that what these stories reveal, is that there are dimensions to our lives that exist…that simply are beyond what we experience day to day with our physical senses. Perhaps, the very point of these stories is to make us understand that there is more to “reality” …the true reality…God’s reality … than we can observe and experience directly. And that…in ways we cannot understand, and will often not perceive… God is present in the midst of this world. God’s spirit is moving, whirling, shimmering, transforming….even when we don’t see it.
I think that IS the word of God – the good news– for us this morning. And it is a word we desperately need. All of us. You can believe Elisha needed that word.
In the story we read from I Kings this morning, Elisha is journeying with Elijah as Elijah is dying….and Elisha is grieving. Deeply. When others point out to him or remind him that “You know…Elijah is going to die soon”…he basically says “shut up….I know. I know”. And when Elijah tells him to just go home – let go and move on. He won’t. Stubbornly, he walks those last legs of the journey with Elijah until the end, asking only that he be able to carry on Elijah’s work…share in his spirit. But in the end… there are no promises. ‘If it happens, it happens’ is all Elijah will say.
Now that’s life we understand. We understand Grief. Hurt. Loyalty. Love. Loss. We understand wanting things, but knowing there are no guarantees….knowing that the future is not in our control. We’ve walked that road, all of us, at some time in life. But something changes when Elisha gets a glimpse of the chariot’s wheels in the midst of the whirlwind. Elisha is still grieving…but it shifts somehow. His perspective shifts. Because his grief becomes embedded in the promise and the presence of God. He gets a glimmer of God’s reality that is beyond his limited grasp…and understands that Elijah is gone….but it isn’t the end after all.
And we all need that reminder, don’t we? That glimpse of chariots. That reminder that God is bigger than our grief. Bigger than the circumstances of our lives. A reminder that God’s life and promise stretch far beyond what we can grasp and there is more than this weary road we trod. There may not be guarantees for what tomorrow will bring…but God’s got this. God’s chariots are rolling through this world and through our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of what is ahead.
And…it is the same for the disciples. In our gospel, they’ve been walking a hard road, too. Actually the conversation that precedes this trip to the mountaintop was Jesus telling them he’s going to suffer and be rejected and be killed…and also, that everyone who wants to follow him…. will need to pick up a cross – to take up shame and degradation and suffering too. If they want to have life with Jesus…they will have to lose everything. And when Peter questions Jesus…says “No….that can’t be what you’re about”, Jesus calls Peter ‘Satan’, no less…and Peter is confused. Scared. He doesn’t want to suffer. He doesn’t want deal with evil and hatred.
But again…this is life we understand, isn’t it? We get life that entails suffering, humiliation, and violence. Read the news. Read the history books. There have always been individuals and groups without concern or respect for any authority and who are so filled with hate they will do all manner of evil to others …and there have always been governments so corrupt they will endorse or at least turn a blind eye to horrifying torture and degradation….even our own. It happens all the time. The crosses are always there, in all manner of shapes and forms, hanging along the roads of this world…reminding us of how brutal the world can be and how helpless we are.
Yes…this is the world we live in…have always lived in. Peter, James and John knew this world…and they wanted Jesus to get them out of it….not tell them that he was leading them on a journey right back into the heart of it. To a Roman cross. But something changes when they get that glimpse – the dazzling light and ancient prophets and the heavenly voice. It doesn’t change how hard this is going to be. Jesus is still going to suffer and be crucified, and they are still going to suffer humiliation and violence. But something has shifted. Now they see that path lies in the heart of God’s promise and presence. The see the light that shines in that darkness …the light of God that is the hope of the world.
We all need our vision…our experience…. transfigured, don’t we? As we look at our life…our world…we need that reminder that, in ways we don’t always understand….in the midst of the grief and the hurt, the uncertainties and the violence and the evil… that God is still here. That there are fiery chariots blazing through the skies when our loved ones die….and that ancient prophets still speak and heavenly voices still thunder over the incessant chatter of hate and ugliness around us. We need that reminder, that in every moment of our lives…in every experience, God is present. And that in powerful and encompassing ways, God is up to something in this world…something good. Holy. Transformative. And Redemptive. We need to be reminded…so that when we read the news, when we face the darkness around us…. we don’t have to be afraid. And so, like the disciples, we can head back down the mountain, into our every day, and we can keep following Jesus. We can keep loving our neighbors. We can keep walking alongside one another, even on the road to death. We can keep being kind. We can keep putting one foot in front of another…doing hard things.
And friends, that’s what a Transfiguration Sunday is for. It is for us. May we embrace the vision and strength God gives us….and live in the light and love and hope of Jesus. Amen.