I’m going to share an image with you. It’s a kind of inkblot image. Don’t worry, it’s not going to tell us some secret wisdom about the depth of our souls. It does relate to Transfiguration however, and what I would like you to do is to look at this image. Look right at the dots in the middle of the picture, and concentrate on those dots.
Now blink your eyes a couple of times
Now, either close your eyes again, or look up at a patch of white wall or ceiling.
How many of you saw something as soon as you blinked your eyes?
How many of you didn’t see it until you close your eyes? Looking at the wall?
How many of you saw Jesus in this image to begin with?
How many of you still don’t see it?
I really like this inkblot Jesus for one really good reason. It reminds me that we all need to take a new and different look at Jesus every now and then. It also reminds us that not everyone sees Jesus the same way as we each might, and that we can all arrive in the presence of Jesus in different and unique perspectives and experiences.
We have been spending a fair amount of time with Jesus in the midst of his ministry. We haven’t really talked about it much these last few weeks, but the people in the stories are all slowly coming to grips with who this Jesus person truly is. Most of what we have heard has been about the great things that the Jesus guy did. It’s a little like the Gospel can be summed up as a lovely story about a man who did a bunch of good things for a lot of people. Some people, like the folks in his hometown are hearing about all the wonderful things that Jesus is doing for so many people. Almost like he is a dispenser of healing for what ails the population. Last week, though, when they asked for miracles, Jesus effectively told them that the miracles of healing aren’t for everyone all the time. And, angry, they ran him out of town. For some reason, Jesus helps people and makes things better. And then the tone changes… dramatically. There is a complete shift.
Just prior to today’s Gospel reading, we have a prediction of death. Jesus asks the disciples who the people say he is, and the response is Peter’s great affirmation: “The Messiah, the son of God.” And Jesus reacts by sternly telling them to not tell anyone. Jesus then teaches the disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed. And, after three days rise again.
How many of them do you think heard that resurrection thing?
Your good friend, who listens, who cares, who wants to teach you the way of caring for all people around you, who seems to have enough love for everyone he meets, has just told you that everything that you trust about normal life is going to turn against him, and ultimately kill him. This, just after agreeing that Jesus is the promised Messiah and being told by the Messiah, himself, to keep that to themselves!
Eight days later, three apostles find themselves climbing a mountain, to pray. And while Jesus is praying, he transforms and becomes dazzling. And he is no longer alone. Christ! Moses! Elijah! Suddenly everything changes right before the eyes of Peter, John, and James! The three greatest people of all time, all in one place, are surrounded utterly in the brilliance of God’s power, God’s glory. They are speaking about Jesus’ imminent departure. And Peter realizes the significance of seeing Jesus like this and wants to capture it – Let’s build tents, this is fantastic!
Often, the stories of Christ tell us more about the people around Jesus than they do about Christ’s self. So, God goes a little off script. This is for the benefit of everyone present, everyone listening. “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” We’re getting to the main point of the story here; it’s time to pay attention.
We’re faced with the transitions of certain kinds of appearances: The Jesus that the apostles and all the disciples have been following is one that they can all mimic, or relate to. These people, learning what it means to live out gospel, are showing us the kind of person-hood that Jesus had.
Now, God and Jesus are sort of saying: we’re about to start down a path that you can’t really follow.
We’re about to see anew that Jesus, though human, is also divine. The story is shifting to be about what Jesus is about to do FOR us.
A trick of light.
Ever had someone take a picture of you with flash, and then all you can see is the little after effects of light? You blink your eyes a couple of times to clear the blinking lights. And everyone says: “Augh! My eyes! That flash was so bright!” It doesn’t matter that you were all moments ago posing for a nice photographic presentation. That darned flash is all you can think about.
We all get caught up in the brilliance of Christ in the midst of this transformation, this brilliance of God’s Glory, the Son of God on the mountain with the other superheroes of Faith. We are so focused on the light that we forget to see what that light is shining on!
It’s shining on the people watching the scene unfold.
Epiphany is the season of light. We have all been basking in the glory of God, this brilliant speck of light arriving in the world as this tiny infant, shining like a beacon, calling us all to the life of the One who brings light into the world. The One who brought glimmers of light into the darkness of each person he passed.
As we move into Lent, we shift from light to darkness. And it’s not because we are meant to suddenly shift into this slow, dirge-like, lugubrious, or painful march to the cross. And it’s not because the light suddenly went out of the world, so we’re punishing ourselves by steeping ourselves in all the dark things that we have done in the last year. It’s not because this news about how Jesus is going to leave the world is overshadowing us like a terrifying cloud.
It IS because we are shifting our focus to what the light is trying to show us. We are shifting our focus into the darkness in order to go where the light is going to shine.
With enough blinking and time, those little spots from camera flashes disappear and we can see clearly all over again. So, too, through the 40 days of Lent, we are encouraged to blink, to recognize that God is worthy of the glory on that mountaintop, worthy to be praised, but to also see that we are careful that we aren’t tempted into praising and glorifying that one vision of Christ and attempting to contain it for all time.
We refocus on the scene before us in today’s Gospel and see that God is telling us that “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to Him.”
And listening through Lent, we turn from the fantastically brilliant image that could so completely captivate our attention, turn and walk down the mountain to see where the light is shining, on the people gathered below, and on a frantic father with a sick child who only wants his son to be free of the evils that seize him. We are reminded yet again that Christ can do just that for each of us.
Christ again points to his imminent death: he can and will free us all – Christ will suffer and die.
On either side of Lent, you will find Jesus on a mountaintop. Today, on a mountaintop, he’s lit up like a neon sign.
At the other end of Lent, he’s crushed, beaten, murdered, dead, hanging limply on a cross.
There are always times when we may want to keep today’s Jesus, safe and secure under a contained tent of praise. But we come down from that space, and the Jesus that we get is the Jesus we’re on our way to meet. That’s the Jesus who meets us in our suffering, who fights against the power of sin.
But neither is truer than the other.
Jesus is both the God of Glory and the God of suffering. Both parts make up the person of Christ!
Both are always the Jesus who moves willingly into the darkness to meet us in the resurrection light;
who goes about shining into the darkness, onto the people who need it most, and showing us all the way;
who gives his body and blood as sacrifice for our wholeness.
This is the Jesus who imparts light to each of us so that we may carry it and shine it into the darkness in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
Let us pray,
Holy One, you are worthy of all the praise and adoration we could possibly muster. We give thanks for your Light in our lives. We give thanks for all the saints and teachers of faith who have gone before us – working wherever it has been that your light has shone. Thank you for reminding us that despite how captivating your glory and brilliance are, it is important to remember where that Light is shining – on us. Empower us to turn toward the Lenten path with hopeful hearts that seek to uncover what it is that your Light is trying to show us.
- Cláudio Carvalhaes. “Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43),” Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
- Karoline Lewis. “No Ordinary Mountaintop.” Dear Working Preacher, Working Preacher.org
- David Lose. “Transfiguration C: Worship Transfigured.” …in the Meantime.
- David Lose. “He Came Down.” Dear Working Preacher, Working Preacher.org