Sunday February 11, 2024 – Mardi Gras Sunday – Called to Transfiguration

Scripture Luke 9

Our scripture today is commonly known as the transfiguration. A long word comes that means, “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” With that definition and looking at the surface of the text, I see why we call this passage the transfiguration. We have Jesus going up the mountain to pray. On the mountain his face changes and his clothes glitter, gleam, and dazzle in bleached or blinding whiteness. Jesus becomes, shiny, a transfiguration indeed. However, when we dig deeper into the text, I wonder what is actually being transfigured. What is actually changing? Because this passage also occurs in both Mark and Matthew, but Luke’s gospel differs in some significant ways.

In Mark and Matthew, the word to describe Jesus’ change is the Greek metemorphothe. It sounds like our word metamorphosis and we translate it as transfigured. So, Matthew and Mark both express that Jesus was, “transfigured before them.” In front of the disciples Peter, James, and John. However, Luke doesn’t use the word metemorphothe. In fact, no Greek word that could be remotely translated as transfigured appears. We call it the transfiguration but in Luke the word transfigured never actually appears. What we do have in Luke is a phrase that means, “the appearance of his face was different,” or, in another way, “the perception of his face was different.” Luke also has an additional detail absent from Matthew and Mark, the detail about the disciples struggling to stay awake. So, what if this passage isn’t about the transfiguration of Jesus but of the disciples? What if this passage shows how the sleepers have awakened. What if, in this brief shining moment, it is not Jesus that changes but the disciples and their perceptions?

Think of the movie Pleasantville. It is set the 1950’s and the movie is both visually for us the audience in black and white and the characters see in black and white. As the movie progresses, the characters slowly start to see in vivid Technicolor, each experiencing their own mountain top moment. Their perceptions changed and they awoke to the reality, to the bright, vibrant, sometimes painful, reality that had actually been around them the whole time. The disciples were literally around Jesus all the time, they heard his parables, heard him speak of his future persecution and death, and only 10 verses earlier, in the same chapter, Peter names Jesus as The Messiah of God. It seems like they get it, but they don’t. They will forget and grow afraid and, well, be human. A passage towards the end of the gospel of Luke puts their, humanness, in sharp relief. It is a passage that parallels what we read today. In Luke 22, Jesus and the disciples are on the side of a mountain, the Mount of Olives. Jesus is praying, asking God, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” We even encounter sleepy disciples. But in Luke 22, they do not stay awake. There, in the moment of Christ’s deepest need, the disciples cannot resist their heavy eyes and fall asleep.

In some ways, the disciples spend most of their days sleepwalking, just shy of fully understanding. Which makes our scripture today so powerful and so profound. “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,[g] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Here, they stay awake. Here, in this brief shinning moment, Luke shows us the possibilities of transfigured perceptions. What do the disciples see when they actually stay awake, when they are fully present and aware? They encounter Christ in full Godly glory! Divinity emanating, glittering, dazzling, blinding! In that moment on the mountaintop they saw Christ as they had never seen him before. Not because Christ was different but because they were. Because for the first time, they were truly awake. This passage isn’t about a transfigured Christ, but about transfigured disciples. It is about the disciples and how they, and we, are called to transfigured perceptions. Because when we sleepwalk through life, when we sleep walk through our faith, we miss the power and glory around us. We miss encountering the fullness of Christ. We miss the beauty of humanity. We miss opportunities and possibilities. We miss how God is working in our lives. We miss the splendor in the grass and the glory in the flower.

Look y’all, I’m going to be honest, sleepwalking can feel familiar, safe, and comfortable. Our sleepy bubbles don’t challenge us to talk to people who don’t look like us, they don’t encourage us to encounter things from someone else’s perspective. Our sleepy bubbles prefer narrow definitions of neighbor and love and steer us away from difficult conversations and new understandings. But, however comfortable and familiar, when we sleepwalk through life, we miss how God is at work around us, and in our hearts. We miss out on the abundant life God wants for us. A transfigured life is not easy, it challenges us to grow and live more like Christ, to have broad and wide definitions of loving God and loving our neighbor. But not matter how hard it may be, a transfigured life is worth it because that life is also a life of hope, peace, patience, and joy. It is a life where we experience God in fuller, deeper, and brighter ways.

As we enter the season of Lent, may we lean into God’s invitation to transfiguration. May we gracefully recognize and encounter all the things that hold us back, that keep us asleep, and may we then release them. Let the next six weeks be a slow wakening to the full, peace-filled, grace-filled, bright, and loving life God wants you to have. Today and tomorrow, may we embrace transfiguration. Amen.

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