How would you describe Jesus if someone asked you who he is? Take a moment before continuing with this reflection to just think how you would answer that question in a sentence. Try to avoid using ‘churchy’ words or phrases and think of what current images you might use. We are just beginning Lent and in last Sunday’s gospel reading we heard God speaking from heaven, saying, ‘This is my Son, listen to him.’ This is who God says he is.
The account of the Transfiguration can appear a confusing one with these figures from history appearing and a voice from the clouds. Our Western rational minded outlook can lead us to presume this to be a piece of fiction or some strange vision. Either of these might be possible, but we shouldn’t rule out God working in a way that goes beyond our normal worldview. Some of the details are important to consider. We don’t know exactly which mountain the action happens on, but in the Bible we see people encountering God on a mountain, most notably Moses and Elijah. These two figures are also significant. Elijah was one of the most important prophets. His story can be read in 1 Kings 17-22 and his reception into heaven was the focus of our other Bible reading today. Moses was the one who gave the Law to the people of God and so, together, they could represent the Prophets and the Law – the two most important strands of Jewish sacred literature. This encounter was a demonstration to those disciples present that Jesus was the Messiah, the one following on from Moses and Elijah. But more than that, the voice declares him to be God’s own Son.
This is also quite a personal story. It speaks of Peter, James, and John experiencing Jesus and God the Father in a way no others have – a true mountaintop experience, despite their misunderstandings. We may not find accounts like this always the most helpful for our own faith journeys. We may look at the miraculous nature of it and compare it with our own experiences and feel that our faith is not as strong or as grand as theirs. It is not just to these disciples that we can be tempted to compare ourselves. We look at those around us, in our own church or in other neighbouring churches and wonder why we don’t have the experiences they have. We must remember that it was only 3 disciples who went up the mountain with Jesus. We don’t know why some were chosen for this special experience and not others. Yet all the disciples were called. Regardless of how miraculous or dramatic our experiences, we too are all still called by Jesus to follow him.
The good news for us is that we all can experience encounters with God through our lives. Even if we don’t see Elijah and Moses it might be on the top of a mountain, or when listening to a piece of music, or reading the Bible, or in the garden, or in conversation with someone else. In so many ways we might have that moment of our heart being warmed, or snatching a glimpse of glory. It is not about having to be some superhero of the faith, but being open to encountering God where we are.
The disciples were warned not to say anything until after the events of Easter, but we know they subsequently did say something. We each have a story to tell. As we return to that opening question, maybe rather than formulating a statement, we should consider what story we would tell of us encountering Jesus – no matter how undramatic you may feel it to be. So today, be open to encountering God or recall times when you have encountered him before. And be open to tell the story only you can tell.
Rev Nik Wooller