It’s time for Lent. I know we’re all excited about that. It’s been a long season of Epiphany and it’s time to get on.
Hang on a minute, though: don’t be in a rush to go to the wilderness just yet. There’s one more ray of light, one that might just give you reason to shine in the days ahead.
However long Epiphany is (much like winter, it can often be longer), we wrap it up with the story of the Transfiguration. We’re hearing Matthew this year, but Mark and Luke have their own versions of the story, each with its own unique details. Essentially, it goes like this: Jesus goes up a mountain with Peter, James and John. While there, Jesus is transfigured, that is, he shines with rays of bright light. Matthew says “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Elijah and Moses appear with him and a voice is heard from a cloud saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Thankfully, there are witnesses. Scared ones, but witnesses, who want to set up memorials to mark the event. As things return to something more normal, Jesus tells them to not be afraid and to come with him down the mountain, warning them not to tell anyone about this until after the resurrection.
It’s one of those great, miraculous moments that we might visualize as a Spielberg or J.J. Abrams film scene. Which is cool, but more importantly, it wraps up Epiphany with a moment in which Jesus is revealed in spectacular fashion to be who he truly is. He literally shines, much like the star that marked his arrival way back at the beginning of Epiphany.
Which is great. And there’s always more to learn from the story, especially since each gospel tells it a little differently. The main thrust of Epiphany is how Jesus is revealed and this story does that in dramatic fashion: Jesus shines in a way that’s true to who he is.
But what does it say about the Jesus in you and me?
Here’s what I think. I think God is in all things and, in love, connects all things. “The Word made flesh” in Jesus means to me that Jesus isn’t just an extension of God for us to worship, an example for us to follow or a teacher for us to learn from, but a mentor who helps us live out the gifts that are in each of us. We are Jesus apprentices, invited, as I like to say, to be Jesusing in our lives. When we live true to what’s in our heart, then we live true to God. And we shine.
That’s why this story is so much more important than just a “here’s Jesus, again” story. It’s an epic moment, sure, but if we treat it like a film scene, we can easily leave it up on the screen where we can admire the special effects from a distance. I don’t see how that has meaning in our lives. We are also, I think, inclined to find ourselves in this story as the fearful, overwhelmed and cowering disciples waiting for Jesus’ invitation to get up and not be afraid.
But what if we were to see ourselves as Jesus in this story? What if we saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the potential to be love that is in each of us and embraced Jesus as the mentor who leads us to finding that love and living it out in our lives? What if we were to shine?
We put this story right before Lent, the time of discovery and discernment that reflects the story of Jesus spending time in the wilderness. But each of the gospel writers place it as a moment of transition from Jesus teaching and ministering to mention of the suffering and death that are ahead and the journey to Jerusalem. A literal movement from the mountain to the valley. In each case, this is a pivotal moment of connectedness between God and the world, the divine and the earthly. Wherever we are in life, the light of love that is in each of us can shine.