Reflection for Feast of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2016

Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28b-36
Preacher: Michael Stanley

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke recounting the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus on top of Mt. Tabor before a trilogy of disciples has held a very special, pivotal and meaningful place in my life.

Jesus appeared in dazzling glory with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James, and John as a “cloud came and overshadowed them” and a voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Today I would like to reflect on a trilogy of mountaintop and overshadowing cloud experiences in relationship to this Transfiguration event. First, my own personal experience; second, Martin Luther King’s 1968 experience; and third, the anniversary today of a 1945 event that changed the world forever.

In camping and traveling across our country with my wife and three children, I’ve experienced the majesty, mystery and awe on the top of Mt. Washington, Pike’s Peak, Mt. Rainier, the Grand Tetons, the Rocky Mountains, and the Olympic Mountains—including driving up the summit of Hurricane Ridge in a complete fog, where we were engulfed and overwhelmed. I was moved, awestruck and transformed.

Fast forward some 30 years and once more I experienced this same sense of awe, wonder and majesty atop Mt. Tabor when I was on pilgrimage. The day we were to visit Mt. Tabor it was raining and threatening, but as we arrived at the base the weather cleared. Half way up the summit, the buses stop and taxis take us up the rest of the narrow winding road to the summit. As we neared the top, a cloud suddenly over shadowed the whole area, so thick you could hardly see a foot ahead of you. Banding together and moving forward to the church at the top of the mountain, we could all sense the need for trust and mutual cooperation. And then finally arriving at the church and praying and literally experiencing the reading of this Transfiguration Gospel was one of the most unforgettable and meaningful moments of my life.

The real heart of this Transfiguration message is that Jesus gives Peter, James, John, and all of us a glimpse of Himself as the glorious and triumphant Lord and a glimpse of our own future as resurrected with the Lord Jesus. Jesus reveals himself as transfigured and transformed, conquering sin and death and fulfilling the law and the prophets (symbolized in Moses and Elijah) for all people for all time. The voice in the cloud asked Peter, James, and John to take the clouds from their eyes and see and listen to Jesus “My beloved Son.” We are also all called and challenged to take the clouds away from our own eyes and see our real selves in the eyes of the real Jesus, seeing not only our sinfulness and guilt, but our own worth and redeemed specialness.

Peter, James, and John, did not want to move. They wanted to stay and bask in God’s glorious Presence and never leave, but Jesus showed Peter, James and John that staying there on the mountaintop was not enough. Jesus brought them back down to earth from the clouds, from their mystical experience, back to the people below—to touch the life of a young boy with epilepsy and his father in the time of their need. We also did not want to leave our mountaintop experience, but Jesus calls all of us to go back to our towns and cities to deal with all those in need—to heal, to love, to forgive. Get up, go forth, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Follow him, act like him…

Second, this Transfiguration Mountain experience also reminds me of Martin Luther King’s speech in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Rev. King was there to secure better wages and working conditions for the garbage collectors. It was there where He delivered his famous “ I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon. He had seen the ultimate victory, and believed. He was not afraid, even though he knew he might die. He wanted to live, but would abide by the will of God.

Third, this same overshadowing cloud theme reminds me of another cloud, 71 years ago today on August 6, 1945 when, at 8:45 a.m., the nuclear age began. Our modern history changed forever with that horrifying vision of a mushroom cloud overshadowing Hiroshima.

Both visions of clouds challenge us with the hard choices that give shape and meaning to our history. For we all have within us the intellectual power to be part of the problem, and destroy life, or to be part of the solution, and accept God’s grace to sanctify life. To paraphrase Peter’s Second Letter today, the challenge before us is to keep our attention closely fixed on the prophetic message we witnessed and heard on the mountaintop, “as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streams of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts” to make the life of God break forth in the world. We are challenged then not to destroy one another with weapons of mass destruction, power, and fear, but to bring life, love and new hope with the transforming cloud of God’s Spirit. How we choose to respond and to be transformed is up to us!

Michael Stanely
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