But first, I remind those of you who found the result of the game distressing, that I wish my own team had as good a season as the Patriots did, even if the season didn’t end as you would choose.
Second, I promise those of you who are not interested in football and are sick to death of hearing about it that I will keep this part short. All you need to know for my purposes is that the game was close and that if the very last play had gone differently, the Patriots might well have won the game.
Alright, here goes.
Near the end of the first half, the Eagles faced a fourth down at the goal line. They decided to go for it, and they used a trick play, and the play worked, and the Eagles scored a touchdown.
On the very next drive, the Patriots almost lost the ball. But because of a penalty on one play in particular, the Patriots retained possession of the ball and went on to score a touchdown.
That was how the first half ended: with both teams scoring a touchdown.
I was watching the game with Nicholas, and during halftime we discussed those two plays—the one that led to the Eagles’ touchdown and the one that set up the Patriot’s touchdown— and which of them would end up really mattering.
If the Eagles went on to win the game, their touchdown at the end of the first half would turn out to have been important to their victory. But if the Patriots went on to win the game, the Eagles’ trick play would have been just a curiosity, and the Patriots’ drive for the touchdown would turn out to be the one that really mattered.
Only at the end of the game could we know which play mattered. We had to know the end to properly evaluate what happened along the way.
Here is the point. Life is like the Superbowl. Stuff happens. But if we don’t know where we are going, if we don’t know how our story ends, it is impossible to know what of all that stuff really matters.
Thankfully, we do know how our story ends.
Thanks to Jesus Christ, we are individually on our way to life with God. We can’t know exactly what that will look like. But we know that we will be with God, and that it will be great.
Because we know that we are, each of us, on the way to life with God, because we know that our story ends in God, we can know what matters along the way. Anything we do to come a little closer to God is a good choice. It matters. It takes us in the direction we are going. It is living now in light of what we know about how our story ends. Anything that takes us away from God is, in the end, just a distraction.
The same is true for our world as whole. Together, we are advancing, however fitfully and despite setbacks, towards God’s kingdom. Because we know how the grand story of creation ends, because we know where all of human history is tending, we can see anything that moves us in the right direction as important, and anything that moves us in the wrong direction as a distraction from what really matters.
This is the lesson of our gospel reading.
When Jesus led Peter and James and John up the mountain, they didn’t yet know how Jesus’ story would end or exactly what Jesus’ story meant for them and for their world.
That is why Jesus took them up the mountain: to give them a preview of where he was heading. Jesus gave his disciples a glimpse of the big picture, of the whole story, from beginning to end.
Picture the scene. There Jesus is on top of the mountain. The first thing Jesus does is help the disciples to see who he really is: God incarnate. Jesus shines with divine glory, with the glory that was his before his incarnation, with the glory that will be his again after his resurrection. Peter and the others are not particularly bright, so God helps them out with a voice from heaven: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” It is all about Jesus.
Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. They are great heroes from the Old Testament, representing the law and the prophets. They appear with Jesus to show the disciples, to show us, that all of salvation history, the whole story so far, has been leading up to this point, when Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, when Jesus comes to open the way for us to God, when Jesus comes to set God’s kingdom in motion.
The disciples are overwhelmed by what they have seen. They could see that Moses and Elijah pointed to Jesus. They could see that Jesus was God’s Son. But what did it all mean? Where were they heading? They had no clue. Not yet.
So Jesus tells them to wait. Jesus tells them not to talk about it, not yet. Jesus tells them to sit with what they have just experienced until God grants them greater understanding. And Jesus tells them when that will be: after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
After the resurrection, and only then, it all comes together. And then the disciples share the good news with others, including with us.
And this is it. Human history is one grand story that revolves around Jesus Christ. What came before Christ prepared the way. Christ himself comes among us as God incarnate. And with his resurrection, Christ takes the decisive step towards establishing God’s final kingdom.
We haven’t gotten all the way to the kingdom yet. But thanks to Christ, thanks to Christ’s revelation to his disciples, we know where we are heading. We have been given the clue to make sense of human history. We have been given the clue to make sense of our world.
We can look around us and see awful things happening all the time. Awful things happen to us and to the people we love. As Christians, we are called to do whatever we can to relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Suffering matters.
But the deepest meaning of our history, of our world, of our lives, is not sin and not suffering.
We are heading towards God’s kingdom. What matters most about our history and our world and our lives is what points us towards our end in God.
On top of that mountain, Jesus could still see crucifixion in his future. But Jesus could also see past crucifixion to resurrection. And in his transfiguration, Jesus invited his disciples to do the same: to see God and God’s kingdom as the deepest reality of our world.
We still catch glimpses of our ultimate destination, glimpses of God’s grace and goodness in creation and in each other. And because we know where we are heading, we know that those glimpses matter more everything that seems to be pulling us away from God.
On this transfiguration Sunday, I give thanks to God for the promise that our story ends in God’s kingdom. I give thanks to God for glimpses of that kingdom along the way. And I pray that we can live as God’s children oriented towards God’s kingdom even now.
In the name of the one who makes it all possible. Amen.