If there is one constant in life, aside from the grounding love of God, it is that all things change. The transfiguration story we have today claims that as we change, we are becoming a more mature, more fully realized version of our true self. The root of the word Transfigure in Greek is the same word we use for metamorphosis, like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Amazing. It is the process of transformation from one form to a more mature form in two or more distinct stages, or a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.
The most common response to change, by others around us, when we define who we are in new ways, can you guess what it is? The most common response to change is, “Change back! We understood you and liked you that way!” But the more we self-define, the more we transition into who we really are, the more we encourage others to do the same.
Today on Transfiguration Sunday we assert that God is with us in transitions, and that when we transfigure, and change, it may affect the people around us even more than ourselves. Jesus is truly a glowing example of this, not only because the story of transfiguration Sunday is when Jesus actually glows, but because God takes all of Jesus intense life transitions and makes an example out of them. God uses Jesus birth, death, and transfiguration, to show God’s love.
Let’s go into the transfiguration story. The scene is six days after Jesus teaches that he is the anointed one, the Christ, that he is destined to endure much, be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scholars, be killed, and after three days, rise. This teaching is hard to hear, so Jesus gives people 6 days or so to cool down. Then Jesus takes 3 of his disciples, Peter, James and John, hiking. Whenever you reach the peak of the mountain you are climbing, it is a really special experience. You see the view of where you came from, you really feel at the top of the world. But hiking with Jesus has a whole new twist, because when they get to the top, not only is the view glorious, but Jesus transfigures before their eyes. “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white,” says the gospel account. Then Moses, the Jewish representation for the law, and Elijah the Jewish representation of the prophets, came into the scene and they were talking with Jesus.
Pause for a moment and think about how you might respond, if this happened on your hike. Some might bow down and worship, some might run the other way. Peter, James and John said “Jesus, we are SO glad we are here, basically, to support you in your transfiguration, we can make three houses here, three tents, so you and Moses and Elijah can stay here!” Which was missing the point, then God speaks for God-self and says “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” And the three disciples fall on their faces with fear. Jesus comes down from the vision, rests his hand on them and says, with so much love and compassion, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
If any of these three disciples had doubt that Jesus was the anointed one, the beloved of God, here on earth to share God’s wish for life-abundant, their doubt was washed away and their faith was strengthened. Get up, we can’t stay here, and by the way, don’t tell anyone about what you saw today, until after I am risen from the dead.
We are all always being transformed by God. Changed. Going through metamorphoses. Sometimes we know when this is happening, because a ritual marks it; a marriage, a death, a birth, an engagement. Other times we muddle through change, only realizing after. These events are gateways into new versions of reality. The events are often filled with a sense of liminality, a living between two worlds. You come up the mountain living one reality, and you go down the mountain knowing something has shifted and changed, but not knowing yet what that means, or how that translates into your life. Moments of hardship, just like joy, come to define us. I think it is worth noting that our transitions and changes won’t always be as glowing as it was for Jesus. Remember, puberty, for example? So intense and so formative. And if you have ever been around in someone’s last days, it is such holy time, you are changed by their transition.
Our gospel today compels us to remember that God is with us in our transitions, whether they are punctuated with awkwardness or mountantop joy or heavy with sadness and loss. What are the moments that have changed you, where you walked through a doorway and entered a whole new reality, that you will spend the rest of your life making sense of?
I wonder, if in theses moments of big life transition, we can remember that as God is changing us, God is giving an example to others through our transfigurations?
On Transfiguration Sunday I think of some parents when their child understands themselves to really occupy a different gender than their gender at birth. This can be so hard on parents of transgender kids, but ultimately the child teaches the parents about God’s love and God’s presence in transitions. Transgender people can be born into one body but may feel inside so strongly that their external gender doesn’t match their soul inside, so they need to transition genders to truly be who God is calling them to become.
Brett Ray, a trans man who wrote “My Name Is Brett: Truths from a Trans Christian,” writes, “The process of learning how to love my body has been a long one. For many years, my body was something that at best, I ignored, and at worst, I despised. Looking in the mirror used to be a task I only dared on my bravest of days, because I was too afraid of the body that would greet me. When I was 19 years old I finally figured out that I am a transgender man. That moment of clarity was a scary one, but it came wit a great amount of relief.”
Brett continues, “God made me a person who was born to go on this transgender journey, and God loves me and leads me and walks with me every single step of the way. I fell in love with myself when I embraced the fact that God rejoiced with me the day I had my top surgery and mourned with me on the days I mourned my body. For me, being trans is not standing in opposition to God’s good creation. It’s a matter of recognizing that transgender bodies are just as much a part of God’s good creation as cisgender bodies.”
He goes on, “I am reminded of a story I read about a pastor talking to a transman who had transitioned while a member at that church- asking what that experience was like for him?” He said, “The thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve changed at all. This just let my true self be known and seen by others. This is really who I have always been all along. Transitioning affected the people around me so much more than it affected me. They were the ones who changed their ideas, assumptions and prejudices.”
Jesus knew he was the anointed one, the Christ, the one God had sent to earth, to bring humanity closer to God. When Jesus transfigured on that mountain, he showed his disciples his true identity, and it changed them. He left them keys to bring the realm of heaven just a little closer to earth.
How will our lives, our big moments, our transitions and metamorphoses show the love of God to others? How can we with our lives, in our big moments, live into love, resist evil, and bring heaven a little closer to earth? We are each transformed by God from one degree of glory to another. Let us go forth with great courage, with the hand of Jesus on us saying ‘Get up, do not be afraid.” Amen.