Jesus lived among us in a human body but in today’s gospel, when he ascends to the mountaintop with his friends, he sheds his human image a bit and we see the bright light of his true, godly self, revealed.
Peter, James, and John were hanging out with Jesus when he asked them to hike up the nearby mountain. He was always wanting to get away for a quiet respite from the crowds and a time for prayer. He said: “Follow me” and they said: “OK.” They huffed and puffed their way up the mountain and when they arrived, tired and sweaty, they realized that something huge had happened to their friend. Jesus had changed! He stood before them transfigured. They stood before him with mouths agape.
Here is how Madeleine L’Engle describes the scene:
“Suddenly they saw him the way he was, the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible. This is how he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy like a flaming sun in his hands. This is the way he was -is - from the beginning, and we cannot bear it. So, he manned himself, came manifest to us; and there on the mountain, they saw him, really saw him, saw his light.”
Jesus is joined by two biblical superstars: the great prophets Elijah and Moses. Peter is absolutely overwhelmed by the whole scene and wants to build some huts so that they can all be comfortable and stay a while. Well, God has something to say. This scene isn’t enough for him. He brings a cloud down amidst our friends and booms out this commandment: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Then everything stops. Time freezes. Peter, James, and John have forgotten to breath. They fall on the ground. They don’t know what to think or do.
They look up and it is over. Elijah and Moses are gone. The cloud is gone. The booming voice of God is silent. They look at each other in amazement. “Did you see that?” “Did you hear that?” When they look at Jesus, they see their friend, a normal human being in dusty clothes.
Calmly, sweetly, he touches their shoulders and gestures for them to follow him back down the path. It is time to go back. He turns to his friends and reminds them to keep quiet, to tell no one what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
What really happened on that mountaintop? Jesus became a bridge between heaven and earth, between God and man. In that moment, the real truth of Jesus became obvious to his followers: he was both God and man. His divine nature became visible.
I think the most important part of the story is the anticlimactic ending: the trudge down the mountain. They could have chosen to stay on that glorious mountaintop. They could have chosen to go along with Peter and build those huts. But it seems that rather quickly, Jesus led them back to life, back to the work they were given to do, back to US. They come down from the mountain to bring the divine nature of Christ to us, to transform our nature, our base human nature into a brightly lit Godly nature.
This is the very core of the miracle of Christ. God became human. God became like US so that we might become like God. In this story we see the light of God in Christ so that we can also see the light of God in us. Jesus and his followers came back down from that mountain so that they could help us to find this truth.
You see, we have God in us. We have the light of Christ in us. Every single one of us has this God within. Our task as Christians is to stoke this fire within, feed this light so that it shines brightly onto others. ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...’
When we become aware of the light of Christ within us, it changes us. Changes how we live and how we treat others. When we look for the light of Christ in others, when we strive to see, truly see the divine in everyone around us, it changes us at the deepest level. This is our bigger task, our almost impossible task: to find the light of Christ in everyone.
Imagine how that would be. Imagine looking at everyone, even those people you can’t stand, as if they were full of Christ’s light. If you can see this, you can only love and forgive them. Seeing this, living this is, to be filled with transfiguring love.
Thomas Merton wrote about seeing the light of God in others. One day, while out on the street in a shopping area, he suddenly realized that “he loved every single person he was seeing. He was filled with the immense joy of being a member of a race in which God became incarnate... (he saw) people, all walking around shining like the sun.”
We enter the dark season of Lent soon with this brilliant story of light to send us on our way. Perhaps that would be a good Lenten practice: find the light of Christ within yourself and be filled with that love. Then look for the light of Christ within others and fill them with God’s love.