If mountaintop experiences were an Olympic sport, Peter, James and John would have won the gold medal after Jesus took them up the mountain to pray.
The three disciples must have suspected, or hoped, something special was going to happen when Jesus sought their company up the mountain.
But they never could have imagined watching Jesus’ face change as he prayed or seeing his clothes turn a dazzling white, or Moses and Elijah appearing and having a conversation with Jesus.
But all of that did happen.
Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared, Luke’s Gospel tells us, “in their glory.”
In other words, they were “transfigured,” an event to be celebrate in two days—Transfiguration Sunday. Now, for a long time I thought the word “transfigured” meant someone was changed.
But it goes a bit deeper than that. It means to transform into something more beautiful or elevated, or exalted, depending upon which dictionary you consult.
But what does this Gospel lesson mean to us? Is it one more miraculous story that modern folks find hard to believe or relate to?
No, it shouldn’t be. However miraculous their mountaintop moment with Jesus was, what Peter, James and John experienced holds great meaning for us.
In fact, that meaning reverberates at the very core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Transfiguration was not for Jesus alone. Embarking on the journey with our Good Shepherd offers each of us moments of transfiguration.
Not as witnesses, but as active participants.
Mountaintop experiences can, of course, take place anywhere. One doesn’t have to climb a mountain. You can be on your living room sofa, taking the trash to the recycling center or scrambling an egg.
Suddenly everything becomes clear. We gain a keen insight into life, into our spiritual journey or our relationship with God.
They are mountaintop experiences because we have felt ourselves transported a little ways beyond the material world, nudging into the spiritual.
We are elevated beyond the everyday experiences of our life on Earth.
Whether we realize it at the time or not, we all have been transfigured by things we do for others, acts of kindness or forgiveness that change—if only for a moment—the way we feel inside.
Our heart and soul feel transformed into something more beautiful than they were before we reached out to someone else. Transformed, inside, into something more elevated, more exalted.
But we are also transfigured by what others have done for us.
Our outward appearance hasn’t changed. People don’t look in our direction and see someone who is suddenly dazzlingly white. Nor do they see Moses or Elijah in conversation with us.
But, what about Jesus? Do people look at us, and see him?
I believe there have been times in all of our lives when we touched someone in such a way that they felt the presence of Christ through us, by what we said or did for them.
I know this is true because I have been on the receiving end of such moments more than once. I have been transfigured by the kindness and love of others.
So, transfiguration isn’t theoretical. It is literal. It can happen anywhere at any moment.
Virtually everything Jesus said or did can directly impact our lives in an experiential, participatory way.
We are offered transfiguration right where we sit, stand or kneel because the mountaintops that matters most are inside us.
Sometimes, however, that truth can be so hard to remember and too easy to forget.
Moments of transfiguration, like mountaintop experiences, are fleeting, ephemeral. They well up inside us like an overflowing emotion and then, like an emptied bucket of water drawn up from a well, they are poured away.
Sometimes the transfiguration is triggered by a moment in a particularly moving song, a painting, a passage in a book, a sunset or a sunrise. And then the song is over, the painting left behind, the book closed and today becomes tomorrow.
But each moment of transfiguration takes us further on the journey, and in a specific direction.
Those moments of transfiguration change the course of our lives and over the course of a lifetime that makes all the difference in where that journey takes us, who we meet and how we change the lives of others and are changed by the lives of others.
We won’t hear the voice of God say—as Peter, James and John heard God say of Jesus—“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
But if we are very quiet and still, we will feel God calling us by our own name, telling us that we, too, are his children, we, too, are his beloved.
God loves us before, during and after our small, but beautifully important, moments of transfiguration.
And love—both human and divine—has the power to transfigure us most of all.