In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus chooses three of his closest friends to come with him up a mountain. In the Bible, mountains are places of encounter with God.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.
Jesus takes these three away from the others; he sets them apart. What happens next, therefore, is somehow private, hidden away from the rest of the world.
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
The word "transfigured" is an unusual one. The Greek word that St. Mark uses is metemorphōthē. From this word comes the term, "metamorphosis," that we use in science. We talk about metamorphosis when we learn about a tadpole changing and growing and becoming a frog. It seems somehow wrong to be comparing the transfiguration of Jesus to the metamorphosis of a tadpole, though, doesn't it?
Yet, a tadpole holds hidden inside of it the power that changes it into a frog. It is a frog, but as yet it exists in another form. When we look at a tadpole, it does not transfigure before our eyes; we cannot see what it will become. But the frog that it will be, is hidden inside.
When Jesus is transfigured before Peter and James and John, it is not a metamorphosis like a tadpole into a frog. He does not remain transfigured; it is only for the moment on the mountain. But could it be that Peter and James and John are seeing what Jesus will become? Are they seeing what is hidden inside of Jesus? Is there a power inside of Jesus that will transform him?
And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
In this moment, time seems to be transfigured, too. Both Elijah and Moses are part of the history of Israel. They lived hundreds of years before Jesus, yet here they are, speaking with him. Elijah is the prophet whom the Bible says will come to announce the arrival of the Messiah. Here he is now, appearing as if out of the pages of scripture, to speak with Jesus. Here is Moses, too, bursting into time, the one who first encountered God on a mountain. Moses, the one who received the law revealed by God. Moses, the one who built a tent in the wilderness--also called a tabernacle--so that the people might carry with them always the presence of God revealed in the Word.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
What is Peter saying here? Is he just babbling? I wonder. He wants to make tents--also called tabernacles. Like Moses, he wants to build a dwelling place for these three, to carry with him always the presence of God.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Where there is dazzling light, now there is a cloud. A cloud is something that hides--hides the sky, hides the sun. What is this cloud hiding? At the same time there is a voice that speaks personally to Peter and James and John. A cloud and a voice. Hiding, yet revealing at the same time.
Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Transfiguration again. Elijah and Moses are gone. The dazzling light has disappeared. What was revealed is hidden again. Everything is once again normal. I wonder how that feels for Peter and James and John.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
Jesus commands them to keep the matter quiet. What Jesus holds inside of him, they are not to talk about to anyone else. It must feel like he is telling them to hide away what has been revealed to them.
Hidden. Revealed. Back and forth. What is the point? What is God playing at? No wonder Peter and James and John are questioning.
But Peter and James and John have been given two clear commands:
1. Listen to Jesus.
2. Tell no one...until.
That word "until" changes everything. It means there will come a time when they can tell. It means the Son of Man will rise from the dead. That word "until" flings a rope around a point in time that is to come, anchoring this moment to that one. What is hidden now, will be revealed then. It will be hidden until.
God creates time for this experience of transfiguration to incubate inside of Peter and James and John. They have time to question together. They have time to wonder. They have time for understanding to grow. When Jesus rises from the dead, and they see him Risen and Glorified, they will remember this moment. When they arrive at that fixed point in the future, when Jesus' Risen life is revealed, how much more will they understand? I wonder if what they know now will have changed them, if it will have transfigured them, too.
It occurs to me that we are being shown something important about life here. We do not always understand events that happen to us. Sometimes we are confused about what things mean. But God is pretty clear: 1) Listen to Jesus. 2) And then wait. Question together, wonder, slowly grow in understanding. Until. This moment in time is anchored to one that is to come, a moment of revelation, when the time is fulfilled. Wait in confidence that at some point in the future, what has been hidden inside will be revealed.
P.S. It also just occurred to me that a caterpillar and a butterfly might have been a more attractive example of metamorphosis! Oh, well. God bless frogs!