The Transfiguration Of Our Lord

S. Transfiguration.24 Mark 9:2-10

‘He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. And they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.’

That Jesus should shine like the sun probably does not seem strange to us, since he’s God, after all. (The better question, I suppose, would be why he isn’t shining like that all the time?). That Moses and Elijah are hanging with, talking with Jesus also should not seem strange to any Christian. Because (despite what the atheist world thinks) the dead in Christ are not dead, at all.

The world thinks Elijah’s dead, burned up in that fiery chariot, like those poor, poor rich people on the last commercial Concorde flight; thinks that Moses’ body lies broken somewhere near the top of Mt. Nebo, like Sir Edmund Hillary’s on Everest.

But Jesus’ friends know better! The moment we die, we’re with Jesus ourselves in the heavenly realm where ‘we being round thee forget to die’—glorified like him, reflecting the light that is no longer hidden from our eyes, hanging out, ‘holding converse high’, which is a source of unspeakable joy, just to imagine, isn’t it? It is for me…

That Peter & Co. are scared witless is also not surprising. Israel was scared silly, just seeing the reflected, fading light of God’s glory from Moses’ face. They put a bag over Moses’ head (do you think it had eye-holes, the bag? I don’t think so, because it would defeat the purpose. Wouldn’t the light could get out through the eyeholes? Hmmm. 😉

They bagged Moses’ shiny face because: seeing the glory of the holy God is scary, for sinful people. Peter’s idea to make it stop, by putting tents over the shiny three seems smart, like 3 big versions of Moses’ bag.

That God should speak from the bright cloud is not strange either. He did that with Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, et. al. That his message is simple, “This is my beloved Son. Hear him!” is also not strange. It’s a reminder we all need, all the time…

That it is actually a relief—when the shinning thing stops—is also not strange, because; well, just as Israel liked Moses better with the bag, so the disciples like Jesus matte, not shiny finish. I also go matte myself when there’s a choice, less… blingy.

What does seem strange—to a modern, missional age, I would wager, is the last bit. “And as they came down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no one! the things they had seen, till the son of man had risen from the dead.”

It still seems strange to me, honestly. Because I was raised on a heavy diet of door-to-door canvassing, ‘gotta tell everyone, or else: they’re going to hell, and then it will be your fault!’ missional mania Christendom. It just about drove me out of the church, truth be told. I hate it. So uncool. So controlling and totalitarian. So unlike Jesus, really—if you read the canonical scriptures instead of letting the marketing department of Christendom Inc. tell the story.

Actually the “missional mania” was also the one thing that kept me in the church—in an oppositional way.

When my advisor John Stroup asked me, 3rd year of grad school, what I planned to do for a job, I was like: “Uh, I was thinking… hobo”—the world I love/ the trains I hop/ to be part of the wave/ can’t stop—John appalled went: don’t do that. He doesn’t love the Chili Peppers like we do. He asked: “Where will you go to church (when you’re not hopping trains)? Have you found any that don’t wreck it with proselytizing and contemporary worship—which go together like movies and popcorn?” I went, “Uh, well…” And John says: “if you want it done rite [sic] you’ll have to do it yourself.” So, here I am.

In the heart of my hobo phase (a yearning that has never entirely left me) Albert Camus introduced me to a line that still makes me happy, every time I think of it. It was in a preface that Camus wrote for a new edition of his old teacher Jean Grenier’s strange book “The Islands” which Camus discovered when he was 20 also, and in his own hobo phase. Grenier wrote “I have often dreamed of arriving alone in a strange city. Alone, and bereft of everything. I would have lived humbly, miserably even. Above all, I would have kept the secret.”

Camus fondly recalls: he took that book home and devoured it. The best part is Grenier never does tell you what “The Secret” is. 😉

But Jesus does. By not telling us, directly. By letting us discover it, indirectly, by following his strange way of the cross, ourselves. This is the way to keep the secret.

C.S. Lewis was onto this, early. In the “Broadcast Talks”, early days of WWII, Lewis says Christians are like secret agents, a commando squad, dropped behind enemy lines, listening for instructions from our friends on the secret wireless. Thrilling!—to Lewis, to me, to “All The Light We Cannot See” fans, everywhere.

“But if the 3 could never tell, how did anyone ever find out?”

Good question! But Jesus didn’t say “never tell”. He said: tell no one [the “Shiny God Thing”] until the son of man is risen from the dead. Also, Matt 10 tells us the LORD never told the 12 to go after everyone with the gospel—quite the contrary, he commands them: don’t take the road to Gentile-land, don’t even enter a town of the Samaritans, but go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel

Peter tells us, I Pet. 3:15, not to tell everyone, but rather: be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. In the book of Acts, there is not a single instance of the apostles “reaching out” to anyone outside the church that’s waiting for Israel’s Messiah to be revealed.

The true church is always… a secret society. Just as Jesus kept his glory secret—even from the 12!—letting it slip only here and there, healing the troubled, raising the dead, on the mountain with his friends, old and new, just so, we copy his circumspect cool; above all, we’ll keep his secret, too.

And in keeping the secret, not throwing our pearls before swine, the secret keeps us—the mystery blossoms, opens hidden depths in us.

The disciples wonder what “rising from the dead” means—since God can’t die, and Jesus is God! Only after the resurrection is the mystery revealed, mysteriously—that in God dying for us, and we dying with him, the secret life of heaven becomes ours by keeping the Divine Mystery wonderingly as the apostles did.

So, if you want to see what Peter, James, and John saw, you’ll just have to be a secret-keeper too… and Peace, surpassing all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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