If you think you heard about transfiguration fairly recently, you're right! Today is the liturgical Feast of the Transfiguration, but the same theme always comes on the last Sunday of Epiphany -- the Sunday just before Lent begins.
About the meaning of transfiguration; I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think the meaning of this event was very different for early Christians than it is for us. I'll try to explain...
By the time the Gospel of Luke was written, Jerusalem was in ruins and early followers of Jesus had been expelled from the Synagogues. Friends, family had turned against them and they needed all the encouragement they could get.
They craved hearing about Peter, James and John's vision of Jesus on the mountain, bathed in glorious light. They longed to hear about Jesus, flanked by Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets). They needed reassurance that what they were suffering was worth it; that Jesus was truly the completion of Jewish tradition.
But there is a warning in this story: Peter misunderstands the vision. Instead of seeing it as reassurance for the dark days to come, he wants to preserve the glory. Peter wants to stay on the mountain. He is unwilling to hear predictions of Jesus' suffering and death. Because of that, Peter is unwilling to take responsibility for his own behavior. He wants it all to just happen for him.
Then the cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of the Lord: saying "This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!" In other words, listen to your life; listen to reality! Grow up!
I hear in this God's call for us to make transfiguration happen. Not just to wait for something wonderful to enter into our lives, but being the change we long for. Actively bringing goodness and mercy and love into the world. Not just worshipping Jesus but becoming Christ-like. Becoming Christs ourselves.
Didn't Jesus himself say that "greater works than these you will do"?
Often our transfiguring "great works" seem small. Often they seem to have nothing to do with formal religious categories. I think of the story of Tom Gerdy, whose account I'll read in his own words. He writes:
"A dear friend was only weeks away from death from cancer. She said she was sorry she wouldn't be able to see the ocean again and get her toes in the sand. We live in central Virginia and she was unable to travel, so the trip to the coast wasn't going to happen. Some of us decided the solution was pretty simple. We were going to bring the beach to her.
"The beach included three tons of beautiful white sand dumped in her driveway, two cabanas, beach balls, shovels, beach chairs, a variety of decorations and a fire pit for the bonfire on the beach at night. Of course we had s'mores on the beach. We also rented a Sno-Cone machine, since it had gotten to the point where flavored ice was about all she was able to eat. We had two CDs playing in the background. One had the sound of waves breaking on the beach and the other was playing either the Beach Boys or Jimmy Buffet.
"I will forever be blessed with the memory of her smile when she came out the door with her fancy flip-flops and a beach bag - (to carry her morphine drip). She was able to "go to the beach" a few more times. For me, those are the moments that make a life."
What are YOUR transfiguration moments? The first time someone looked into your eyes with love? The birth of a child? A call from your dearest friend?
But what about the times you made transfiguration happen? When by your words or actions you brought a smile or laugh or hope to someone who really needs it?
The story of Jesus' Transfiguration was preserved for a reason. And it's not just basking, like Peter, in all the glory. It's about bringing glory - bringing love and peace, truth and hope -- into the lives of our neighbors and through them... into our own.