Let us pause, for a moment, in the radiant sanctuary of prayer:
Bright shining God, inner light of all people,
we are grateful for your gifts of love, faith and hope.
We rejoice that you have made us in your image
and call us to live in your limitless love.
You called Jesus to be our morning star,
to light the way in our night
and lead us in the way of love and justice.
Your Holy Spirit shines good news into our lives.
Each morning you call us to rise and translate
our gratitude and faith into our daily actions.
We strive to shine the light of your love
into the shadowed places of our lives and our world.
For this sacred calling we give you thanks, O God.
(Feasting on the Word: Worship Companion, Year A, Vol. 1, pg. 190, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, adapted)
The Season of Epiphany began with Epiphany Sunday and the story of a radiant star that guided travellers to the Christ-Child. The Season of Epiphany ends with a no less luminescent story from Matthew’s Gospel – the Transfiguration of Jesus. In both these stories of faith God’s presence is revealed and recalled in the presence of a great and mystical light. Both experiences inspire wonder and awe and provoke a lasting and transformative effect that has been transmitted through the ages in our faith tradition. And, both experiences have a mystical and unusual quality about them that is both mysterious and alluring.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 19:28-36) All three accounts of this story are almost identical in detail with the exception that Luke’s Gospel makes the distinction that Jesus was praying when he was transfigured. All three Gospel writers note a transformative change in Jesus’ appearance and say that the appearance of his face changed (Luke 19:29) and that his face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2). They all speak of Jesus standing on the same level beside the great prophets of Judaism – Moses and Elijah. And, all the accounts occur on a high mountain that was believed to be the place closest to God.
The word transfiguration simply means to change the outward form or appearance of something. The Gospel accounts were originally written in Greek. The English word transfiguration is the translation from the Greek “metamorphoo” from which the word metamorphosis is derived.
Something powerful happened, emotionally and spiritually, to the early witnesses and participants of Jesus ministry that transformed their lives and gave them courage to proclaim their faith in spite of adversity and threat of personal harm. I was reminded, this week, that there is another record in Christian Scriptures of the inspiration of the transfiguration experience for early Christian communities. The Second Letter of Peter says,
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of…Jesus Christ, but we had eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God…when that voice was conveyed to him saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2nd Peter 1:16-19, my emphasis)
This type of transformative experience is not exclusive to biblical times. People throughout the ages have experienced close encounters with God that have transformed their lives. A few years ago, I had an opportunity to hear theologian and professor at Duke University, Will Willimon, speak at a conference I attended. I remember his talk for one reason and that is because Willimon said something I found astonishing. He said that in a survey of Roman Catholic people in the United States that the majority of people surveyed had at least one life-changing mystical experience that they had never told anyone – not even their spouses. (Epiphany Explorations Symposium, Victoria 2004)
It is difficult to express in words those moments when we know in the core of our very being that we have been touched by the divine. What we do with those experiences – the decisions and choices we make with our lives – can have a great influence on the lives of others.
The disciples who were with Jesus on the mountaintop wanted to bask in the glow of their experience for a while and build shrines to mark the occasion. Jesus tells them clearly that they must go down the mountain into life’s daily challenges and use their experience to have courage and live the faith they’ve found.
In January 1965, three years before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. said,
“I must confess that I have enjoyed being on this mountaintop
and I am tempted to want to stay here and retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But something within reminds me that the valley calls me in spite of all its agonies, dangers, and frustrating moments. I must return to the valley. Something tells me that the ultimate test of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where [they] stand in moments of challenge and moments of controversy. So I must return to the valley.”
(Martin Luther King Jr., January 27, 1965)
Transformative moments are not always earth-shattering occurrences. Often, they are seemingly ordinary occurrences that turn into something extraordinary in the way we experience them and in our response and actions. This week, as I’ve been reflecting on these things, two events in Canada came to mind. The first event began on September 19, 2007, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two young men, David Shepherd and Travis Price, decided to stand up for another student who had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. David and Travis went to a discount store and bought 50 pink tank tops, sent out a message to schoolmates that night and the next morning handed them out to students to wear. When the boy who had been bullied came to school Travis said, “It looked like a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The bullies were never heard from again.” Pink Shirt Day has been adopted in schools across Canada, and in many countries around the world, as an annual non-violent anti-bullying protest. This past Wednesday was Pink Shirt Day and you may have seen the many pictures in our local newspaper to mark the occasion.
The second thing that’s caught my interest this week, was inspired by Gilmore Junio when he gave up his place in the finals of the Olympic speed skating race to his teammate, Denny Morrison. We all know the story – Denny Morrison took the opportunity offered him and won a silver medal for Canada. That isn’t the end of the story.
A Canadian company – Jacknife Design – inspired by Gilmore’s generosity and team spirit wants to recognize and thank Gilmore on behalf of Canadians. If you look up Jacknife Design on the Internet you will see they have posted a link – THANKSGILMORE.COM – that describes what they are doing. I watched the short video link and was impressed by members of this company of young people – in their 20’s and 30’s – who have been inspired by Gilmore Junio and want to make him a medal to recognize his contribution to Canada’s Olympic success. (The medal they have designed will be made of: Maple wood – to represent all of Canada; Silver – for Denny Morrison’s silver in the 2014 Olympic Games; and Gold – a thank you and appreciation to Gilmore for “his incredibly selfless act of team spirit”.) The video is 3 minutes long and reveals the energy, creativity and passion that this project has inspired. The following is a quote from the video clip,
“We are big Olympic fans… When we saw Gilmore Junio give up his spot to allow Denny Morrison to race instead – and bring home a silver medal – we were inspired to do something special for Gilmore to recognize his incredible sacrifice. It’s easy to celebrate winners – they get medals! But we think Gil Junio is the biggest winner of all. He proved it with the dedication he showed to both his team and his country. No one deserves to be rewarded more than Gilmore and we want to give him a …medal of his own. … a special medal that comes directly from the Canadian people. …[Gilmore] embodies the qualities that we most value as Canadians. …Good guys can finish first – it’s a Canadian sentiment.” (videoclip on THANKSGILMORE.COM by Jacknife Design)
Like a pebble dropped in the water, our actions can radiate outward and touch others near and far away. In today’s Gospel story, Jesus tells his disciples, not to make a shrine and bask in the glory of God’s presence but to go out and show the world by their actions that
they have been touched and transformed by God. Jesus says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7) Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus assures his followers, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”. (Matthew 28:20)
And so we end – as we began – with a prayer of thanksgiving:
Holy One, you are revealed to us
in ordinary and yet extraordinary ways
and we are transformed moment by moment.
Help us to recognize your glory and with thanksgiving
seek to share the gift of your love with others
this day and in the days to come. Amen