February 10/11, 2018
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Pr. Michelle Sevig
Transfigured, Changed, Beloved
I’m one of those people who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, not the football. This year, though, I didn’t pay attention to either of them, and waited until the next day for the follow-up commentary. And this year people are “talking about” the Tide commercial. The Tide Ad has more than 11 million views on YouTube this week. And several have made their own Tide ads or memes to share on social media.
So this “Tide ad” was still in my mind as I read the transfiguration story this week. Jesus is up on a mountain with Peter, James and John; a familiar scene, one we read each year at this time when we transition from Epiphany to Lent. It’s a holy moment; A mountaintop experience. We’ve seen this before. But wait! Jesus’ clothes are dazzling white…it’s a Tide ad J
I read “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” and I imagined the Holy Spirit standing before a washing machine that reads “for Jesus only” and pouring detergent out of a Tide bottle to get those clothes a remarkably bright, glowing, dazzling white.
Of course the transfiguration is about more than just Jesus’ clothes. Trans come from the Greek word metemorpho, as in metamorphosis, meaning change. Jesus was transformed on that mountain—changed somehow—though it’s not exactly clear (besides his dazzling white clothing) what was changed.
A number of years ago I asked a friend who identifies as transgender to reflect with me about the transition from female to male. For much of his life people referred to him as a girl and his outward appearance reflected what people expected for girls. As an adult he began to change his outward appearance to reflect what people expect for men. He changed his name, grew facial hair, and began using male pronouns. When I asked him about these changes and what the prefix trans means to him he simply said, “The thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve changed at all. The transitioning let my true self be known and seen by others. This is who I have always been all along.” Then he said, “Transitioning affected the people around me much more than it affected me. They were the ones who changed their ideas, assumptions and prejudices about gender.”
This dramatic change and powerful transformation for him were about revealing his true identity, not changing it; and in turn the people around him were changed. We had our assumptions about him challenged and readjusted. Some were able to stay with him through the revelation and change, and others couldn’t make sense of it all. They were afraid because everything they thought they knew about him had changed.
Imagine now, Peter, James and John climbing up the mountain with Jesus, their friend and teacher, talking about life and what the future might hold for them, when suddenly he is transfigured—changed. And they were terrified.
He’s not changed from human to divine, but the disciples see for the first time that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus’ true self was now known and seen by others, perhaps for the first time. Everything they thought they knew about him had changed in that moment. Assumptions about him and about their future were challenged and readjusted. No wonder they were terrified! Most of us don’t like change, do we? But their lives and their understanding of Jesus were transformed on that mountaintop, too.
However the transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of the disciples is much more than a commercial break from everyday life. They didn’t stay on the mountaintop (though the disciples wanted to), but transitioned back down the mountain into the mundane nature of everyday life, down into the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, and disbelieving. They entered back into the religious and political quarrels of the day. Back down to the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of our life in this world. And we remember that as Jesus comes back down mountain, ready to enter our gritty world on our behalf, he also enters into our brokenness and fear, disappointment and loss.
Cares about our ups and downs, cares about our hopes and disappointments, cares about our dreams and despair. Cares about all things we care about, promising to be with us, to walk along side us and to never let us go.
Just as the voice from heaven announced Jesus as the beloved one, we too are transformed and named beloved in our baptism. We are made new in the light and love of Christ and we are invited to let the light of Christ shine through us in our prayers, in our giving, through our acts of mercy, compassion and justice, so that others, too, may see that we are changed by the glory of God in us. In this meal and in the waters of baptism we are transformed to live life anew, confident in the one who transforms us from the inside out.