Today we find ourselves on the threshold between the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent. We are ending the season of the epiphany or revelation of Christ to the world, and will enter the season of preparation that will take us through the passion of Jesus. Later this week on Ash Wednesday, we will cross that threshold and enter into the season of Lent.
Our collect for this day signals this transition. “O God,” we pray, “who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.
The idea is that as we behold by faith the glory that shone on Jesus, we will be strengthened to bear our own crosses and will be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
If there’s one word to describe Jesus’ transfiguration on the holy mountain it’s this: glorious. Glorious means that something is worthy of fame or admiration. Another definition is that something is glorious if it has a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.
Jesus takes his inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up a mountain and he is transfigured before them. His face starts to shine as bright as the sun, and his clothes turn dazzling white. And then Moses, the great leader and law giver appears. As does, Elijah, the great wonder working prophet. Then God’s presence and glory descends as a cloud and envelops them in darkness. And then the voice of God the Father telling the disciples to listen to Jesus, God’s beloved Son. It was glorious.
And you and I prayed earlier in our collect that we would behold by faith the glory that shone on Jesus so that we could bear our own crosses as we follow him. But I want to share with you today, that if we only look for the glory of Jesus shining on the mountain, we will miss the glory of God that shines on Jesus in the midst of his suffering and our own.
Jesus’ transfiguration is significant, not because it is the one time that Jesus radiates God’s glory. Jesus’ transfiguration is significant, because Peter, James, and John finally see that the glory of God shining and radiating on Jesus on the mountain has always been there, they are just seeing it for the first time. The truth of the transfiguration is that Jesus’ whole life radiated the glory of God. Peter, James, and John see that their friend and teacher’s identity is shot through with the glory of God before they ever got to the mountain top. It’s in his early life. In his devotion and life of prayer and fasting. In his teaching and proclamation of the good news. In the healings and miracles. It’s even in the conflict and misunderstandings surrounding the life of Jesus. The same light they see shining on Jesus on the mountain has always been there through it all. And not only has it been there in the past, it will be there in the future.
Today we are stand on this threshold between seasons, and in the glow of Jesus’s brilliance on the mountain, we join Peter, James, and John and look ahead to Jesus’ passion. It was these same three who saw the glory of God in a unique way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Again, they are away from the crowds and the other disciples, and they see Jesus who is overcome with sorrow and agony. He tells the three to stay near him because the grief he is experiencing is like death itself. “I am deeply grieved,” Jesus says, “even unto death.”
The same glory that we see on the mountain top where Jesus shines like the sun, is there before the transfiguration, and it was there in the dark agony of Gethsemane and on the cross. The transfiguration on the mountain shows that there’s no place where Jesus is that God’s glory will not be there, too.
Having said all of this, I want to share with you what has struck me this week as I’ve reflected on the transfiguration. It’s what Jesus does after he reveals his glory on the mountain. After Jesus shines with the glory of God, after Moses and Elijah, after the cloud envelopes them, after the voice of God, after all of this–Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear and fall to the ground.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” This is the glory of God.
Jesus who radiates the glory of God in his life and even his passion, shines the light of God’s glory into the darkness of our fear and our sorrow and suffering. He meets us in our fears. He reaches out and touches us and tells us not to be afraid. And Jesus continues to do this for us.
Kyle Carpenter is a medically retired United States Marine who is the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor. At twenty-one years old, Kyle and another Marine were on a rooftop in Afghanistan in 2010 when a hand grenade landed in their sandbagged position. Kyle doesn’t remember what happened next, but according to eyewitnesses and the official investigation, Kyle jumped on the grenade, absorbing the blast and saving the life of his friend.
Kyle sustained many life-threatening injuries from the blast and had to be resuscitated twice on the way to the first hospital outpost. They thought we was dead when he first arrived. He was later stabilized enough to go to a major military hospital in Germany. After many close calls with death, he became stable enough to be flown from Germany to Walter Reed in the United States. He was loaded on to a transport plane that had two intensive care bays. The other bay was occupied by Ryan Craig who had been shot in the head and who was accompanied by his mother, Jennifer. Kyle was disoriented and when he saw Jennifer, he thought she was his own mother and called out to her, “Mom.” Jennifer knew Kyle needed her support, so she took his hand and sat between Kyle and her own son Ryan for the remainder of the nine-hour flight. Kyle credits Jennifer reaching out and grabbing his hand as one of the many moments that literally kept him alive.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
One day when this life is over you and I will come face to face with Christ. And we too will see the glory of God radiating from Jesus, and we will realize that it was always shining—we just didn’t realize it. When all said and done and we see him face to face, we will realize he was always with us. Every time we felt like we didn’t know if we could make it, but somehow we found the strength to push on. Every moment of wonder and gratitude for the mystery and gift of life. Every time someone reached out to us to let us know they cared. Every encouraging word and all of the love we have ever experienced. Every time we were in our own agony or sorrow, but had the feeling that we weren’t alone.
Face to face with his shining glory, we will realize it was him all along. Shining so brightly, reaching out to touch us so that we wouldn’t be afraid.
His light shines all around us, and if we realize it and look to catch glimpses of it, we will be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory.