Only Jesus’ inner circle—Peter, James, and John—are allowed to witness all this when it first happens.
But the transfiguration is not just for them. Peter and James and John are allowed to tell others about it after Christ’s resurrection. All of us are invited to share in their vision somehow. As the Apostle Paul says, God gives us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The prayer with which we began our service says the same. We prayed that we might “behold by faith the light of [Christ’s] countenance.”
As a gift of God received in faith, we too can see God’s glory in Christ’s face.
So let’s pretend for a moment that we were there, on the mountain with Peter and James and John.
At first we see a group of four apparently ordinary men.
God shines a light in our hearts. God opens our eyes.
And the scene changes. One of those apparently ordinary men shines with the glory of God.
Then the vision ends. Once again we see four ordinary men. Life resumes.
If I had been there, I would be desperate to talk about what I had seen. But Jesus does not let the disciples talk about it “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
That is because the transfiguration only makes sense when seen in the light of the resurrection. We cannot understand the transfiguration until we know that Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried, was also raised on the third day and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.
The transfiguration anticipates Christ’s resurrection, when the glory of God shines most clearly. In case we need it, the transfiguration reminds us even before the resurrection that Jesus is much more than an ordinary man. In addition to being fully human, like us in all but sin, Jesus is also fully divine, God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
That is what Peter and James and John saw that day: the glory of God shining in Jesus Christ who was himself God. That is what we would have seen if we had been there.
A vision of God in a human face is a hard thing to take in! I picture the disciples struggling to make sense of what they saw, as I am sure I would have done.
I suspect they asked themselves, did we really see what we think we saw? Was that God shining in our friend and master? Is that who Jesus really is?
Or, they might have asked themselves, is it more accurate to think of Jesus as we see him right now: as an impressive and special person but still finally an ordinary person more or less like us?
The answer is obvious to us now even if it would not have been obvious to them then. That vision on the mountain really did reveal to them who Jesus is: the very Son of God in human form.
But there is more to be said. Our opening prayer points the way. We prayed that, having beheld by faith the light of Christ’s countenance, we might “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”
It is not just that we have a vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are called to personal transformation so that we become like the one whose glory we see. We can never be the Son of God, capital S. But we are all sons and daughters of God, adopted into the household of God through God’s grace revealed in Christ Jesus.
When we look in the mirror, we see an ordinary and sinful man or woman. That is true enough, but it is not the whole truth of who we are.
Can we see also Christ when we look in the mirror? Because we have put on Jesus Christ, we have been clothed with Christ. When God looks at us, it is as if God sees us through the lens of Jesus Christ. We are called to see ourselves that way too.
We can see our own transfiguration only in light of the resurrection. In the resurrection, we will shine with the reflected light of Christ’s glory. We do not look much like that right now. But that is who we are, even if our truest identity as beloved children of God is not yet fully visible.
But that is still not the end of it. Ultimately we are called not only to see ourselves as God sees us, as God’s beloved children redeemed by Jesus Christ and shining with the glory of God. We are also called to see everyone else the same way.
And that may be the hardest lesson of all.
All those people out there, everyone we bump into as we go about our ordinary lives, they, too, are in the process of transformation. They too have the possibility of being transfigured. They too are beloved children of God growing into the people they are created to be.
Many of us are taking the Bible Challenge to read the whole Bible this year. Last week, one of the commentators suggested that we make a list of everyone we meet one day, then write “Jesus Christ” next to every name.
The point is, we can and we should do our best, with God’s help, to see Christ’s countenance shining in our neighbors. All those ordinary people are children of God, created in God’s image and likeness and adopted into the household of God. God’s sees our neighbors through the lens of Jesus Christ. If we could see them the same way, we could glimpse Christ’s face and God’s glory in them.
Last week a young woman in horrible circumstances showed the way. Kayla Mueller was an American hostage being held by ISIS. Kayla first went to Syria a couple of years ago to help people in need. She was taken captive in August 2013.
In a letter to her family recently made public, Kayla wrote, “I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else ... + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”
Kayla wrote that while being held hostage by ISIS. In captivity, Kayla came closer to God. Kayla learned to see God’s presence and God’s comfort even there. Kayla received the spiritual gift of seeing the good, of seeing God, in every situation.
Kayla died last week. But before she died, Kayla learned what we are all called to learn: that God is present with us in every moment; that we can see God if we practice looking. Kayla beheld by faith the light of Christ’s countenance. Kayla was strengthened to bear her cross. Kayla was changed into Christ’s likeness, from glory to glory.
Kayla was transfigured through her suffering. And having been transfigured herself, Kayla was able to see all of creation transfigured by the presence of God.
May God help us to do the same. In Christ’s name. Amen.