23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
We all remember the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz when at last Dorothy and the gang bring the broomstick of the wicked witch of the west to who they think is the mighty and powerful wizard of Oz. As he tells them to come back later and that he can’t grant their wishes, Toto the dog goes behind an unseen curtain to reveal the true nature of the Wizard. He is an old guy turning switches speaking into a microphone. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ then becomes an everyday phrase.What we have this morning is the same kind of story—but in reverse. The curtain is pulled back. But the Jesus Peter, James and John are now faced with is not the same rabbi from Palestine, he is engulfed in blazing light and the cloud of Chekinah, great glory. As he said, these three now ‘have not tasted death before seeing the kingdom of God.’We know this as the Transfiguration—the last Epiphany experience before Jesus comes down from the mountain for his journey to the cross. The content of what he Elijah and Moses were talking about was just that—his exodus to the cross for the Deliverance of, not just the children of Israel, but of the world. I have three reflections. The first is the taste of future glory. Better yet, this is realized glory. Many say that the life of the spirit is all fine and well, but they live in the ‘real world.’ However, what we see manifested here is the real world. It is ultimate reality. It is the real, whereas the world the disciples thought they were living is really the not-so-real world. Here is a glimpse of how things really are.Here is something that will bake your noodle. What do we say in the Creed? We believe in the ‘communion of saints.’ Where did Moses and Elijah come from? What is their nature? They are not phantoms nor are they ‘night of the living dead.’ They are somehow outside of time yet in time. While Elijah was transferred into heaven, Moses died. Yet, here is Moses in a kingdom state of being with the benefits of Christ’s resurrection before it has happened. The curtain is pulled back and Jesus is revealed—and faithful followers are also revealed—while Christ does not share his glory with anyone, Elijah and Moses are right there.There is the glimpse, the curtain pulled back. Sometimes we feel that or see that in our own world. We are created for an experience of the real, an experience of Jesus as real as what the three disciples experienced. It is not so much that Jesus changed as much as the disciples sense of perception changed. They were given a gift to see things as they really are.The contemplatives, like Thomas Merton and even C.S. Lewis would say that we could experience mighty things if we would just for a moment let go of our selfishness, pride and greed. If we could love God and others not for our sakes but for theirs. But we are satisfied with imitation.Thomas Merton said, ‘The devil is no fool. He can get people feeling about heaven the way they ought to feel about hell. He can make them fear the means of grace the way they do not fear sin. And he does so, not by light but by obscurity, not by realities but by shadows; not by clarity and substance, but by dreams and the creatures of psychosis. And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.’Sometimes, though, we are given glimpses. Sometimes in other people. Sometimes in realizing the gift that God gives us.The other day Caroline called me on the phone before she went to school and said, ‘Daddy, I just want to tell you that I love you.’ I just had to choke back the tears. Who am I to deserve what God has given me? And I feel that way about Sarah, Macrina and Luke too. I am not worthy.If we could step away from ourselves just for a moment! Before Thomas Merton entered the monastery, he was told by one of his profs to look at the Trappists, the strictest orders in the world. Merton said, ‘I can’t do that. They take things a bit too far. And can’t keep their strict silence. Also, I couldn’t do without meat. I have to eat meat for my health.’ His professor replied, ‘Well it is good that you know yourself so well.’We are made for relationship with Jesus to such an extent that we can perceive him and see what is real and what is counterfeit. To love him for his sake. To love others without wanting anything in return. To have a glimpse behind the curtain.Next, this scene shows us without a doubt who Jesus is. The second person of the Trinity, God of God light from light…‘This is my beloved Son.’ The imagery around the Transfiguration is very important. A cloud envelops Jesus. This kind of cloud in the Old Testament represents God’s ‘Shekinah,’ or his ‘Chabod,’ that is, his glory. Look at our scene from Exodus 34. For Moses, the glory came from above, for Jesus, the glory comes from within.One scholar says that glory, in the OT, ‘implies more than a disclosure by God of who he is. It implies an invasion of the material universe, an expression of God’s active presence among his people.” The cloud of glory is often associated with the Temple or the tabernacle, the presence of God among men.Do you ever wonder what was wrong with Peter’s desire to enshrine this event? Much ink has been spilled in Peter’s defense or as a critique of what he did. The reason why Peter’s suggestion to build shrines was problematic was because he wanted three shrines, one for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.But Jesus transcends them all. Jesus transcends the tabernacle and the Temple, the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah. Jesus does not ask for a booth alongside the others because he is above the others. God’s presence is most evident in Jesus Christ because he is God become human flesh. ‘This is my beloved Son.’One missionary says, “Behind the story and the details with the disciples, the tents and the cloud, one thing stands clear–in that momentous event the unique, eternal, and full divinity of Jesus Christ shone into and out of Christ. Nowhere in religious literature do we read of a comparable scene. The closest thing in Islam would be Mohammed’s midnight trip to Jerusalem and up to the seventh heaven, passing the realm of the prophets Moses and Jesus on his way to the very presence of Allah. But no transfiguration, merely a return to Mecca that night to find his bed still warm. Jesus and Jesus alone has the fullness of the deity dwelling in Him. He is the express image of the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. All the world was through Him and for Him, He is the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, and he will judge the living and the dead.”The irony is that the more centered we are in the Deity of Jesus—the more confident in his Godhead, the easier it is to dialogue with other faiths. This is not so much because of what we think or what we understand intellectually, but because our heart and will is so dedicated to Jesus that his love shines through us and in us. So, you don’t think, ‘how do I convince this Muslim or Buddhist to believe in Jesus,’ but you think, ‘how would Jesus treat this person and how does Jesus see them?’Lastly, the story ends ironically. The disciples have seen something and not really understood it. But even what they have understood, they what? Keep to themselves. Peter writes about it later and obviously the story is shared with the gospel writers, but Luke tells us, ‘The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at the time what they had seen.’ Why not? Weren’t they given something special? Didn’t they have something to ‘one-up’ the rest of the 12? Why wouldn’t they enshrine the event?C.S. Lewis’ book the Great Divorce, which we have gone through in our adult class, is a fascinating tale of what the kingdom could be like. Of course it is fiction but very interesting. The people of earth after death are given an opportunity to ‘try out’ heaven, but they are made of the stuff of earth and are more like ghosts. The grass hurts, the atmosphere is ‘real’ and solid, while they are not. Therefore, the grass hurts to walk on and the light is too bright and the sounds are too noisy.There is one scene in which a man from earth is trying to take an apple from heaven back to earth—back to the bus they came on.He tries to get the biggest one, but he cannot lift it, so he goes for a smaller one, still he can’t lift it and he is in a pathetic kind of state. Kind of like what enshrining the Transfiguration would be like. Trying to capture heaven and bring it to earth.Sometimes the greatest response to God is silence. Sometimes the greatest way to glorify God is to keep our mouth shut. This sounds like a contradiction of what I always say that you need to tell your story of your relationship with Jesus. But many times our greatest evangelical moment comes from less explanation of our faith than more explanation. ‘Preach Christ at all times, if necessary, use words’ so said St. Francis. In our world of sounds and images, it is so much more effective to show the mercy of Christ to someone than to try to explain it. Remember, God is the one who draws people to himself anyway. We are simply messengers. And bad ones at that. But if we love with his hands and see with his eyes and sit in his presence, his life will shine forth from us.