Scripture – Mark 9:2-9 – Transfiguration Sunday/Holy Humor Sunday – February 11, 2018
This is not a coincidence. For several years running now, our annual Holy Humor Sunday and visit by the Hot Cat Jazz Band and our All-Church Birthday Party have occurred on Transfiguration Sunday. This is not a coincidence. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent begins. Today is intentionally scheduled to allow us to eat our fill of cake and wildly dance and sing before embarking on the way to the cross. It is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. The first Sunday of Epiphany, which immediately follows the visit of the Magi on January 6, is the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. On that First Sunday of Epiphany, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus rises up out of the water he sees “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'”
Today, on the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, that same voice makes a second appearance and speaks to the disciples this time: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” So we have these bookends, these brackets on either side of the season of Epiphany, which, for both Jesus in the beginning and the disciples today, are epiphanies in and of themselves.
You may remember the several definitions of an epiphany: an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity; a sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure.
Epiphanies have the power to transform. Now I’m not sure of the genesis of this expression, but when I was growing up, in my household the visit of the Magi, the Feast of the Epiphany was referred to as “little Christmas”, which made me wonder this week about “little epiphanies” and “little transformations”. Because I think we experience them more than we realize. Very few, if any, of us have the tremendous kind, like that same voice from the clouds talking to us through a burning bush like Moses or striking us off our horses and blinding us by the light like Paul. But we do have enlightening experiences, aha moments, inspirations – little epiphanies which illuminate our understanding, which transform the way we view the world, the way we live in it, the way we relate to other people, to God’s creation.
And it has been my experience, both my own and through listening to others, that we’re a little shy about revealing those epiphanies. We’re afraid we may be seen as just a teeny bit naïve or foolish; or maybe we’re afraid of hearing some amateur scientific neurological explanation for our sudden insights, as if God had no hand in it at all. But those illuminations, realizations and discoveries change us. They transform us.
It makes me wonder about Peter, James and John that day high up on the mountain. Their mountaintop experience was right up there with the all-time BIG epiphanies, but when it was all over and they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to say a word to anyone about it. What did that feel like? Keep this in, Jesus? Are you kidding me? You were just transfigured before our very eyes; Elijah and Moses appeared from the dead; we heard the voice of God from the clouds; and you want us to keep quiet about it?! We have been changed forever and we can’t tell anyone?!
Or was there some relief? How would they explain this anyway? We saw the glory of God manifest in our holy, healing Teacher but he said we can’t say anything until he rises from the dead. In verse 10, the next verse right after our reading ends today, we can read, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” Because you have to die first… and Jesus has already started telling them that he will undergo great suffering and be handed over and killed. How that can be possible, really, with all these adoring crowds showing up everywhere he goes? So they kept the matter to themselves.
My friends, how good it is for us to be here, now, living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, able to understand, at least a little better than the disciples did as they came down that mountain, the eventual arrest and death of Jesus and the miracle of his Resurrection, the sudden illuminating discovery by the disciples which sent them running out into the streets and to the far corners of the world proclaiming his divinity, his message, his love without even a trace of self-conscious foolishness.
Why should we be any different? Our insights, our transformations come in so many different ways. We suddenly awake from a dream and we have an answer. We look into the face of a child and the meaning of our existence becomes apparent. We see a spectacular sunrise and we are filled with awe. We witness the power of wind and rain and earthquake and humility replaces our unjustified bravado. We hear Amazing Grace, we sing Precious Lord, we remember His Eye is on the Sparrow and we know we are at God’s mercy AND we are in God’s ever-loving, ever-lasting care. We shed tears and can suddenly see the way. We reach the pinnacle of laughter and realize as we come back down that it’s really not as bad as we thought.
Our little epiphanies are transformational and we are called to share our testimony, to unveil the gospel to others as a living, loving force in our lives, to shine a light on the miraculous saving truth around us which is so overshadowed by today’s clouds of greed and hate. My friends, back in January, at the beginning of the season of Epiphany, we heard “Arise, shine, your light has come”. Now at the end, that light is revealed in the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. And as we sing and dance and laugh today, that same light shines forth from each and every one of us. Do not keep this matter to yourselves: tell everyone! Amen.