St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
The Transfiguration of our Lord
Exodus 34: 29-35
2 Peter 1: 13-21
If you want to be transformed, you have to figure out who you are. You have to know yourself, know your identity. You have to know all the details, the good and the beautiful, the bad and the ugly. You have to find the truth of all that and recognize it as truth. You can’t fool yourself.
And that’s not all. You have to look closely at what you are about…what you have identified as your mission in life….your intention for your life and your intention for developing your spiritual formation. Like Jesus.
Like everything else, preparation is everything. If we are going to plant a garden, we have to prepare the soil first. If we don’t, we might have some success with the seeds we plant, but our chances are haphazard. With the right preparation, we are likely to see our seeds grow with abundance and we will be able to see the results of our labors….a lovely garden, where once there was none. If we are going to paint our house, we have to cover windows, sand down the old siding and much more in order to prepare it to receive the paint. If we don’t, we’ll have a mess on our hands, if we do, we will see our house transformed before our eyes. And before either of these transformations…or any transformation in ourselves…. can take place, we had to asses…had to figure out what needed to be done in order to prepare for a transformation.
Transformation is more than just upkeep and daily maintenance. It is trans…moving from one place to another….formation….moving the form of something to another form. And transformation may not always be perfect or for the best…..or maybe it is, depending on how you perceive it. For instance, new technology has transformed the way we communicate with each other. Writing letters, organizing photographs to send to loved ones, holding conversation or even intentional listening, have given way in large part to email, texting and Facebook. If you call anyone under 30, don’t expect them to answer the phone. On the other hand they don’t think twice about communicating on a daily basis with hundreds of people at once. Society’s way of communicating has been transformed by technology.
None of these happen overnight. Transformation takes time, and effort and preparation. If you want to be transformed, you have to do all this. Like Jesus.
When Jesus went up to the mountain to pray with Peter, John and James, the disciples were not prepared for what happened there. Leaving Jesus to pray, the disciples probably started looking for a place to get some rest from the hard hike up the trail. And then the inexplicable happened. “While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (9:29)
The sight was dazzling….the very air around Jesus must have been dazzling…the disciples were dazzled just as are we…by the story. But the disciples were there and they saw Elijah and Moses …standing gloriously next to Jesus and in conversation about his coming mission in Jerusalem and the means of his departure. They witnessed a dazzling moment of divinity…..were given the privilege of a deeply intimate revelation of God’s glory in Jesus shining with blinding light all around them….a light that focused on the glory of God in the moment and through this story into our lives today. The blinding light of divine glory offered nothing less than a front row seat to the disciples as they witnessed this transfiguration.
The disciples had always considered Jesus as a kind of super-rabbi and who knows, maybe some of them enjoyed the indirect glory they received from the crowds that followed him around. Yet, for all they had seen and heard while with Jesus, they had not yet taken to heart Jesus’ discussions with them about his mission, his rejection, his death and resurrection, not only were they depicted by Luke as sleepy on the mountain, apparently they had been a bit asleep on the job all along.
Even amid the splendor of this blinding divine light….the disciples clung to what they knew to be normal….pulling back from all the possibilities of their own transformation brought about by the experience, they rushed to figure out how to accommodate everyone as if this was just another high level Vestry meeting. Peter’s offer to quickly build a booth for Jesus and his luminary guests…. resulted in, what must have been an extremely exasperated God, commanding in no uncertain terms from a fast forming cloud around the disciples, “this is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him!” (9:35)
When the cloud lifted, the moment was over, Elijah and Moses were nowhere in sight, and there they were as they had been just moments before. Jesus and the disciples on the mountain. Yet….something had changed…something had shifted. Jesus was changed…in the way he would be in the world and how he would be perceived as he continued to conduct his ministry with the end in sight. He was prepared for the change of direction which had now come…prepared in body, mind and spirit. He does not seem surprised by his experience on the mountain. Indeed, maybe he expected it and knew that when the time came, God would reveal in a dramatic way the when, how and where his destiny was to be fulfilled.
Through this singular and powerful experience, Jesus was transformed into a trajectory of divine mission now made real. The question is, did it change the disciples?
They had been witnesses to a transfiguring moment, a moment when they glimpsed beyond all that seemed possible, something that would be hard to explain to be believed, something that could only be experienced deep within. Perhaps we can understand and excuse them for not being prepared.
How is a young parent prepared for his first child’s birth? How do you explain the change in his eye the moment he lays eyes on his child? How do you explain the movement in a soldier’s heart when he spies a flower growing out of the devastation of a war zone? Neither is prepared to explain the shift that takes place in the very heart of who they are….how they are changed by it. How do you explain the divine experience? “Surely,” said the Centurion, “This man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39) Surely, God must have said, this man has been transformed by what he has just witnessed.
It was a transformational moment for the Centurion as he sensed the transfiguring hand of God upon the earth at the time of Jesus’ death. Some people get it and some people don’t.
The disciples couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about their experience. They probably kept their thoughts to themselves and got back to business as usual as quickly as they could. And we can’t help but ask how they could have missed such an amazing opportunity to recognize Jesus as someone beyond the hard boundaries of their limited imaginations. And even if they did understand some part of what they had seen, they did nothing about it. Perhaps they were changed to the extent that they began to understand the enormity of what they had signed on to. Maybe such a revelation silences one…. as a means of preparation for one’s own transformation or as a step closer to it. Change doesn’t come easy whether you are a disciples of a charismatic and obviously divine being in the first century BCE or whether you are a regular church goer in the 21st Century. Because change, as a means toward transformation sounds like way too much work in any century.
Ron Ashkenas is a business consultant who wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about transformation and change. While written for business managers, his points are well taken in light of our own confusion around change and transformation. Ashkenas says we’ve come a long way toward understanding change management, but managers have not yet come to understand the difference between change and transformation. For example, proven business practices around change involve creating new leadership teams, changing various processes for more efficiency, engaging stakeholders, etc. and all may help to bring about change. But not necessarily transformation. Transformation is not as predictable as change, not as well planned out and not necessarily well defined, or defined at all. Transformation is unpredictable because it is a reinvention of who and what was before. So you don’t know in what direction its visionary approach might take you.
Perhaps that’s why the disciples kept silent about what they had witnessed. Perhaps their silent witness was to be the beginning of their own transformed view of Jesus and of the role into which they would be called to enter as a result of their relationship with Jesus and as a result of their having been present to see his transfiguration.
Sometimes we are subdued by the need for our own change or by our awareness of its insistent call or its arrival at our doorstep when we least expect it. We want to accommodate the status quo for all the right reasons. It has worked in the past, it follows the normal expected order of things, it means well. Perhaps that’s why Peter wanted to build special booths for Jesus, for Elijah and Moses. It was the right and proper thing to do….to honor these exalted ones….to show respect and hospitality.
But God wants more of us than that. To be sure, God wants us to use our proven experience and wants us to use the gifts we have been given in order to contribute to the world and to our own growth. But God wants us to grow, not just once, not just now and then, but continually…..and beyond the place we think we are supposed to reach and stay. We are called to grow not just for growth’s sake but to come to a place of continual transformation. If we hold on to the past too hard, our usefulness becomes less and less necessary. And to become less necessary is to make God sound through the clouds….”This is my beloved Son…listen to him!” God wants us to become more and more necessary to God with our every moment of living.
The point is that whoever we are, whatever we think might be our limitations, our strength, our patience or lack of it, we are called to continual formation and growth. We may not be able to do some of the things we used to do or may not have the desire to anything else. However, to acknowledge that we are still called to work toward our own growth……to be open to the possibility of one’s own transformation and the transformation of all one can touch, and is a way to begin to open oneself to the possibility of true transfiguration. It is the path of the saints.
What if we decide to do away with the word “change.” What if we incorporate the word “transformation” into all we undertake? Here at St. Aidan’s our efforts in the garden this summer are showing signs of transforming the way we present ourselves to the world not only in the garden but in our relationship with our fellow travelers at Holy Cross.
So what next? What have we done in the past? What has worked? What are we unable to do anymore?
What is our identity….all our details, the good and the beautiful, the bad and the ugly? What is the truth of all that and how do we recognize it as truth? Where are we fooling ourselves and how do we need to prepare for whatever might come next as we each walk our private walk with God and as we walk together in community.
How can we creatively achieve what we want to achieve in a new and totally different way? How will we grow from the experience of our own intentional transformation?
Like the disciples before us, we are to be present and faithful to Jesus, even when we don’t always understand why and even when we don’t always measure up to the expectations we know Jesus has of us. But we can continue to grow and be transformed by being in the presence of Christ and in his transfiguring divine light.
And when we have traversed the journey to transformation through our own determination and preparation, we can reach a place where we know transfiguration when we see it. We don’t miss its powerful point. We are present and alive to witness it as its powerful blinding light sheds insights into our understanding of who we are and why we are alive.
When the disciples witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain so long ago, they disciples didn’t understand but they didn’t question it either. They silently questioned themselves and we can do nothing less.
It is an exciting prospect to consider especially if, one day, when we least expect it, we suddenly realize we are standing in a great light of insight into where we want to go, who we want to be and what we are to do to reach our goal.…..and our lives, our community and our church will no longer be what they seemed to be before. Suddenly we realize that what we are about now is different…..and that what we count now as important is different. How we perceive what is important is different and all our hopes, all our possibilities and all that can be…. appears luminous and more beautiful in the eyes of the world….and it will all be different…. because we and the church we love have been transfigured and we will know it.
Written to the Glory of God
August 7, 2016
 Ron Ashkenas, We Still Don’t Know the Difference Between Change and Transformation,” Harvard Business Review, January 15, 2015