2 Corinthians 4.3–6
It is not indeed as risen, exalted, living, divine, but as crucified, that this Jesus Christ is distinguished unmistakably from the many risen, exalted, living gods and deified founders of religion, from the Caesars, geniuses, and heroes of world history.
Hans Küng, On Being a Christian
I want to tell you a couple of stories about my family today. Firstly, one of our sons. Karen and I took each of our kids on a plane trip when they had finished primary school and were entering high school. We thought it would be a good experience for them, and in those days you could get a ‘mystery flight’ for $100 to places like Sydney and Melbourne. It was a way of filling empty seats.
I remember taking one son who was just entranced as he was looking out above the clouds and onto the ground below. He just kept saying ‘Wow!’. I don’t know how many times he said ‘Wow!’, but it never got old for him or me. It’s one of my favourite memories, up there above the clouds with nothing but innocent pleasure.
It was a lovely time, but it didn’t teach me about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Preachers often talk about the experience of the disciples as a Wow! kind of time, a time to be in the presence of Christ who is revealed as God’s Son. A time to be amazed at Jesus, shining like the sun.
But do you remember a couple of weeks ago, we heard about the time Jesus spoke with authority in the synagogue in Capernaum and people were amazed? Jesus didn’t want their amazement. He wanted their faith.
So let me turn from the clouds and bring you back to earth, where we do learn what faith is. Let me tell you about my dad. Dad died of cancer just over 27 years ago. He was only 59.
Our relationship was fine, but I have to say that when I lost my heart to Christ in my teens, a strange barrier developed between us.
Dad was initially hostile to my Christian involvement, and then neutral, and finally it was obvious he was proud of the way I knew my bible and went to church.
I asked him once if he were a Christian, and he told me he was. Yet in my youth, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t go to church if he had a Christian faith.
Bits and pieces of dad’s story came out over time. Because his father died when dad was three years old, dad was needed as a breadwinner for his family during the years of the Second World War. That is why he left school early; he could have gone on to have a secondary education, but he had to bring money in.
Dad went to the Methodist Church, and in his teens he thought he might become a minister. He mentioned it to his minister; he was told that because he hadn’t had any secondary education, there was no way he could become a minister.
Dad never darkened the door of that church again.
When he was terminally ill, dad asked me to get him a bible and also a book by William Barclay, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers. Dad had never once mentioned William Barclay to me; I hadn’t realised he knew his name.
The resistance that dad had to the Christian faith just melted away, and he seemed to just simply step back into living as a Christian. Just for a few weeks, until he died.
I’m telling you about this today because of dad’s eyes. They shone during that period of time. While his body was wasting away, I saw dad becoming more and more alive in his spirit.
That has taught me more about transfiguration than anything else. I saw my dad being transfigured. His clothes didn’t shine, but his eyes and his heart did.
When they were coming back down from the mountain, Jesus gave an order to his disciples:
Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.
Why not? I bet they were bursting to tell their mates what they’d seen!
But they had to wait.
They had to wait for an experience that was truly dread-full. Truly full of dread. Their Master crucified while they—apart from the women—just ran. They had to face up to themselves, and find their reconciliation with Jesus whom they had deserted.
Then they could begin to understand the presence of the risen Christ among them. Then they could start to understand what they had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration.
When the risen Lord encounters the disciples, he shows the marks of the nails. Everything has been resurrected, including the suffering that Jesus underwent for us.
That’s why saying ‘Wow!’ isn’t enough, though that flight with my son will always be a delightful memory for me.
My dad had some things he had to come to terms with in those last week, things he regretted. It wasn’t a ‘Wow!’ experience. There were scars that Jesus healed.
It’s good that we celebrate this mysterious story of the Transfiguration right before Lent commences. The two belong together. Transfiguration is a prelude of the Resurrection; at the same time, it points us to Jesus’ death on Calvary. It points us to the season of self-examination, a season of coming to terms with ourselves, so that we may take further steps on the way to the renewal of our minds and hearts.