a sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Transfiguration)
When Jesus climbed the mountain with Peter, James and John, he was transfigured. But it was the disciples who were transformed.
How many of you know who Princess Fiona is? She is one of the main characters in the movie “Shrek.” Fiona was under a spell in which she was a beautiful princess by day and an ogre by night. She lived in a dungeon guarded by a dragon and was doomed to stay there until someone came to rescue her with “Love’s first kiss.” She always dreamed that she would be rescued by a handsome prince charming, who would kiss her and she’d become beautiful all the time.
One day her dream came true, sort of. But instead of a handsome prince, she was rescued by Shrek, an ugly, smelly, hideous green ogre who just wanted to be left alone and live in a swamp. And when Shrek rescued Fiona, he did take her to her prince, but it turned out he wasn’t very charming. All he wanted to do was force her to marry him so he could take all her land. At her forced wedding, Shrek returns and proclaims his love for the beautiful Fiona. He kisses her and she rises into the air with all sorts of lighting effects. When she comes back down, she is an ogre. At first she is dismayed, but Shrek assures her that she is beautiful to him and is indeed in “love’s true form.” They head off to live happily ever after in the swamp.
Today, is Transfiguration Sunday, because the Gospel reading tells us that Jesus was transfigured. In a flash of light, Jesus is finally revealed to be the son of God, and he “sets his face toward Jerusalem,” claiming his task of suffering love. His outward appearance changed right in front of his closest disciples. His clothes became a dazzling white and his face began to glow. He was joined by Moses and Elijah, and once again, the voice of God boomed out of the sky.
This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.
The idea of transformation is very appealing, because it implies that things can change things very quickly with little or no effort. Something magical happens, and what was old has become new. That is why we like movies like Shrek, or reality shows where homes are transformed from dark, dingy, old fashioned shacks to sparkling new mansions with the snap of a finger.
But I believe that Jesus transfiguration was very different. It is more like a metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is what happens when caterpillars turn into butterflies, or tadpoles become frogs. It is a change in the outward appearance of something, typically something that has reached a particular stage of maturity and development. The animal is still the same on the inside – its DNA is the same – but suddenly its true nature is revealed to the world. We are able to see clearly the creature that God created it to be.
Jesus was transfigured, not changed, and it allowed his disciples could finally see who he was all along. Christian writer Madeline L’Engle writes, “Suddenly they saw him the way he was, the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible. This is how he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy like a flaming sun in his hands. This is the way he was – is – from the beginning, and we cannot bear it. So he manned himself, came manifest to us; and there on the mountain they saw him, really saw him, saw his light. We all know that if we really see him we die. But isn’t that what is required of us? Then, perhaps, we will see each other, too.”
Jesus was transfigured on that mountain top, but it was his disciples who were changed. Suddenly, they could see who Jesus was all along. And his transfiguration marked a change in their understanding of their calling and their mission. No longer where they followers of a simple teacher, a rabbi. Nor were they following a warrior, one who would overthrow the Roman army and restore the Jews to a place of worldly power. Instead, they finally saw that they had been walking with God all along. Finally, they truly saw him for who he was. He was the Christ, the Messiah, the one who is to reveal the love of God for all human kind.
In just a few minutes, we will baptize Bradyn Michael Urban into the body of Christ. His outward appearance probably won’t change. But his true nature will be revealed. He will become a child of God, sealed with the sign of the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever. He will become like a caterpillar, someone who has all the DNA to be a fully formed disciple of Christ, but will still need time to grow and mature.
That’s where we come in – the Church. It’s our job to see that Bradyn and all who are baptized become mature disciples, teaching them the ways of Jesus, and by walking along side of them as they grow. He will learn what it means to be fully human – people who are broken, people who stumble and fail, people who sometimes have to crawl along like a caterpillar – looking toward the day he is transformed into the creature God intends him to be all along.
We know that through Christ, we can also look forward to our own transfigurations, when our outer shells will fall away and we become the person God intended us to be all along. Our transfigured selves are waiting to be revealed on the other side of the mountain, on the other side Lent. As we begin our journey with Jesus this Ash Wednesday, remember that we are not called to be who Jesus is – only he could die and rise again. Instead, we are called by God to be all that God has created us to be, so that we too might reveal the love of God to our brothers and sisters, and reflect God’s glory in the world.
Thanks be to God.