I love the story of the transfiguration. It is full of mystery. There is no way to explain it or make sense of it so I’m not going to try. It is simply one of those glorious holy moments when God comes close and something amazing happens. It seems to me that it happens at just the right moment.
The disciples have been with Jesus for quite a while. They’ve heard him teach. They’ve seen him heal. They’ve watched him change the world around him. But lately Jesus has started talking about things that the disciples don’t quite understand. And not only do they not understand it, they don’t like it. Jesus is talking about dying and being rejected and rising in three days. It was confusing for the disciples. It sounds like the end of something that has given them so much life. The disciples want to press rewind and go back to the days when Jesus was healing and teaching. It was easier. There was no shadow hanging over them. No end in sight.
Our gospel reading begins with an invitation. Jesus invites Peter and James and John on a bit of road trip up the mountain. I imagine the disciples walking up the winding path to the top of the mountain heavy hearts because they don’t what is going on. But then Jesus was always surprising them so this was nothing new. When they finally reach the top of the mountain something extraordinary happens. It says in our reading that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:2 – 3) But it doesn’t stop there. Elijah and Moses appear. They are to Jesus. About what? The gospel doesn’t say. And Peter, well Peter just doesn’t know what to do or what to say. He, along with James and John are terrified. Not knowing what to say or do, Peter calls out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us make three dwelling places, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:6) The words are barely out of Peter’s mouth when a cloud overshadows them, and a voice says, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
These words echo the words from Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of Marks’ Gospel. It is a promise of love. Dr. Matt Skinner writes, “Because the Transfiguration is so bizarre and unusual, it can be easy to assume that we’re supposed to approach it with sober reverence and awe. But that isn’t how God views it. For God, the Transfiguration presents an opportunity to declare love for the one called “Son.” If God is capable of smiling, this would be the occasion in which that happens. I don’t see how anyone can talk of one’s “beloved” without breaking into a pleased grin.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2341)
For one shinning holy moment Jesus stood in the glory of God basking in that love. Peter, James and John are reminded that Jesus is God’s beloved. It somehow puts all those things Jesus has been talking about death, rejection and rising into perspective. They are insignificant when they are reminded Jesus is God’s beloved. Peter fill with both terror and awe wants to hold onto this holy moment. The challenge of those holy times when God comes near to us, is that they come so quickly and are over so quickly. It says in verse 8, “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” (Mark 2:8) As they walk down the mountain, they are no longer worried about what comes next. They know what they must do. Listen to Jesus.
I think that we all need those holy moments that remind us what we are about as a people of faith. It can be hard – especially when it seems like everything is going wrong. We don’t know when those holy moments are going to come. God’s love, as we will sing later, colours outside the lines and is always full of surprises. Here is what we know. God is love. God is with us in our doubt, in our sorrow and in our joy. When God calls Jesus beloved, God is reminding Jesus who he is and what he is about – love at work in the world. Jesus and the disciples, leave the holy place, God’s words echoing are echoing in their hearts. “This is son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
It’s a message for us today. For those moments when we get discouraged or when we forget that God loves us. We can remember God’s words to Jesus because they are for us too. And if we listen to Jesus and follow in his ways, then our world will be filled with loving community. Because when we love our neighbours as ourselves and we do unto others as you would have them do unto you, our world is a better place for everyone. It means safe places to live and food on the table and abundant life for all. And when the task seems daunting, we remember that each day God whispers in our ears, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased. Amen