Mark 9: 2-9
Football in Texas is a very big thing. It’s only half a joke that there are two religions in Texas, Christianity and football, and we’re not sure which is the more important. You see the movie, TV show, or read the book Friday Night Lights and you begin to understand just how important it is to people.
There are ten state champions in Texas every year. They have five classes, each split into two divisions, roughly grouped by size, though geography and the strength of a program also plays a part. That means that there are ten groups of young men who have a moment in their lives where many of the people of their towns look up to them, admire them, honor them. For some, it may be the last time this happens, for others, it is only the first time. But there is this once when they get to be in the parade, instead of watching it. In Commerce, the last town we lived in in Texas, they played for the State championship. The school was on the south side of town, and the highway to where the game was was also that direction. The players, band and cheerleaders were put on the buses, and were led out of the school by the complete fire and police departments, all driving at about 10 miles an hour, so as to allow everyone lined up on the side of the road to cheer, holler, shake cowbells, and otherwise cheer the team on. They won that year, I think, but they came back pretty late at night, so I didn’t go out to cheer the conquering heroes.
For those players, for all of the teams, it’s a moment where, at that moment, they are everything they thought they could be, and everyone else sees who they are at their best. Some guys never get over that feeling. Some hold on to it forever, never missing an opportunity to tell the story of the game, and perhaps even wearing their team jacket. Other guys find that that is the first time they felt that feeling of achievement, and they drive themselves to feel it again.
Champions in any sport have that moment when they have won all that there is to win. It’s not just sports, either. The conclusion of a high school show which received loud and appreciative applause, a choir concert of elite singers, even a bass tournament win, all can give that moment of singularity, a moment when you are noted and singled out for an achievement, and others know of your quality. They don’t just know your name, they know about you, because in the drive to that achievement, they have learned of your character.
If that is true of us as human beings achieving great, but man-made heights, how much more powerful must it have felt for Peter, James, and John to have been present when they saw the proof they’d been seeking about who Jesus was. Peter had to have felt something along the lines of “I was right!” It’s he, who interrupts the three figures talking, asking whether to build a memorial to this event.
What he may not know at that point, but the readers of Mark do know, is that this event, this transfiguration, is not the culmination—this has not been the goal. This transfiguration is the event that names Jesus for what is to come. He is the son of God. He heard the voice tell him so when he was baptized, and now the voice is telling his disciples so, and that they should listen to him. The job that he has prepared for is starting. In Mark, Jesus is very clear about what is to happen, how he will be treated, how he will die, and how he will be resurrected. The transfiguration is the event that signals his movement toward Jerusalem. It shows the three disciples that he is indeed the man they think him to be, and that no matter what happens, no matter how confusing things are about to get, how tough it’s going to be, Peter James and John have experienced the proof that Jesus is who they claim.
Today is also a special day in the life of the church. Transfiguration is a day set a side for the church to mark the change from Epiphany, which has been the season we’ve been in since January 6, to Lent, which are the six weeks before Easter. In various traditions, the season of Lent has been the season of deprivation, of the denial of creature comforts. It has been a season where there is a sense of denying oneself so as to be in common cause, to be in sympathy with Jesus and what he suffered. In the midst of the darkness that is to come, however, we tell the story to each other of the day that Jesus stood on a rock and became a glowing, terrifyingly bright presence, and stood with the two most important figures of the faith, his divinity shining through, just once, so that we could know beyond all reasonable doubt that he is the Son of God. Should we ever doubt his divinity, we can remember this story, what he looked like, and the voice that told the disciples who he was. Should we ever doubt his humanity, we can tell the story that he died.
There was a moment when who Jesus really was became clear to people just like us, people who were frail and clueless, just like us, and if those ordinary guys, Peter, James, and John, went on to do the things that they did in Jesus’ name, then so can we.
There was a brief shining moment in their lives that they could reach for whenever things got tough. Whenever life events conspired to cause them to doubt, there was a brief moment when everything was clear, truth was understandable, and they were in the presence of the greatness of God, with no filter. That moment would be with them for the rest of their lives.
We are far removed from that day. The story we have is not told from the lips of Peter, James or John, but is from the pages of a book. We don’t generally do Lent the way the church has, historically—we do not always deny ourselves things during this time. But, rather than have this story lose importance, we can make it more important, more year-round, more evergreen. There are times through all of our lives when we wonder whether Jesus is for us. Whether Jesus died for us, whether Jesus was really the son of God. Our testimony comes from the Bible, and from our elders in our churches, people who have lived more life than we have, who will say to us that yes, Jesus is divine, Jesus is for us, and let me tell you what happened to me.
And when that story is told again, in the world of the saints who live among us, Jesus is transfigured again. Jesus is the son of God, and in him God is well pleased. Listen to him.