Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
This winter weather has no bulbs poking up in our home yard. Each fall, before a hard frost sets in about Thanksgiving time, I plant flower bulbs at home. Last fall I planted hyacinth, daffodils, crocus and anemones. We’ll soon see what comes up this year.
My favorite spring flower, beyond a doubt, is a daffodil. They have a bold yellow color, last a long time, take cold weather well, can be seen from a distance, develop into clumps and return year after year.
Even though snow covers the ground in March, daffodil bulbs begin to emerge in spring. The daffodil will be among the first plants to come out and bloom this spring. Grown from bulbs planted in fall, the plants emerge as slim green blades in March or early April, producing bright trumpet-shaped blossoms at the end of thin tubular stems.
For me, at least, the daffodil bulbs symbolize transfiguration Sunday. While daffodils represent the beginning of spring and the coming of summer. The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us of the Lenten journey to Good Friday and the rising of Jesus on Easter Day. Both daffodils and the transfiguration day are signs of things to come. They alert us to great changes, taking place both in nature and in our religious lives.
This year the account of the transfiguration derives from the Gospel of Mark. Mark places the transfiguration story at a significant time in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus and his disciples have traveled through the villages of Caesarea Philippi, when he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” They reply, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. The Apostle Peter, however, answers, “You are the Messiah.” Bingo. That’s the answer to the million-dollar question. Jesus is not another itinerant prophet, but the Messiah God sends to redeem fallen humanity.
Now a problem develops from this answer. The term Messiah means different things to different people. Some people believe the Messiah to be like General George Patton, leading an army and battling an enemy. Others describe the Messiah as heavenly figure, riding on clouds. While still others believe the Messiah is a Biblical prophet like Elijah. In other words, ask three people to describe the Messiah and you may get four different answers.
Jesus wants to set the record straight. He tells them, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Right away the disciples have a problem accepting this definition of Messiah. Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus tells him, “Get behind me Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” The discussion becomes contentious.
This argument leads to the transfiguration event. Jesus announced his Messianic vocation, but now defines that vocation in terms of rejection and crucifixion. That is a bitter pill for the disciples to swallow. They thought discipleship offered a shortcut to wealth, fame and power. You may recall how James and John, the sons of Zebedee sidled up to Jesus and asked him to grant them most favored status in his kingdom. He told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. Discipleship is not what you get for yourself, but what you give to others.
The transfiguration places God’s seal upon the ministry and identity of Jesus. We read that Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up on a mountain. There something utterly awe inspiring happens; Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. His clothes become dazzling white. Then even more astoundingly Elijah and Moses appear and speak with him.
At this point the Apostle Peter blurts out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Interesting the Gospel includes this note on Peter, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Surely, we can understand he is agog at what happened.
The transfiguration event concludes with a cloud overshadowing Jesus and the disciples. A voice from that cloud says, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.” And then the whole event is over and they are left alone. As they descend from the mountain, Jesus reminds them to tell no one what they have seen, until the Son of Man rises from the dead.” Here is the missing link in the story. Not only has Jesus been identified as the Messiah, who will suffer rejection and death on the cross, but he will rise from the dead on Easter.
The transfiguration account lays out a great truth for us to see and understand. The road from the mountain leads to Golgatha and ultimately Gethsemane, to the death and resurrection of Jesus. As disciples, we walk that road with him, just as Peter, John and James did. We and the disciples view Jesus in an entirely new and different way as a result of this experience.
I recall one Saturday morning years ago my wife and I watched my son, Jon, play soccer as a third grader on the old triple A fields. Jon had just broken out of the pack in what we might call a “herd ball” game and was scooting down the field toward the goal. I was talking, however, with Rick Ripperger, a local orthopedic surgeon. In the midst of our conversation, Rick said, “Look at that kid go. He’s a real jock.” I looked toward the field and realized he was describing our son. My understanding of Jon changed that day. I had a glimpse of who he would become.
We are reminded transfiguration events occur in life, when the veil is lifted, and for a moment we see below the ordinary surface of life and into the wondrous depths of unseen realities around us. It is seeing with the eyes of the artist, the poet or the saint. God becomes present to us. Or as Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, “And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
I hope you awake to sense the presence of the risen Christ and feel nurtured by his divine life, renewed and forgiven, and made one with heaven and all humanity. May God reveal to you in Jesus the Christ who has been sent to redeem humanity.
Look around this room. Every person here is a beloved child of God, touched by the Holy Spirit, and grafted into the Body of the Transfigured Christ. The light of God shines upon each of us. God claims us as his child. Under the surface of our daily lives, something more dazzling than a sunset glow. Divine light transfigures ourselves. Just as daffodils mark the coming of spring, so God’s presence in Christ, reveals a new life to you. Let that presence transform and strengthen you for ministry. May that presence renew your faith in Christ and commitment to discipleship. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.