The Transfiguration, Titian, 1560
Luke 9:28b-36a — (Jesus) took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.
(…continued) Jesus was a human being. He was born into this world like anyone else, grew up as a small town boy in Nazareth, and was living the life of a wandering preacher with his disciples traveling with him. They all knew he was an incredible and wonderful human being, but they did not know yet what else he was; the Son of God, here on earth as a visitor from that other world. Jesus was not merely a human being, but as it says in Philippians chapter two, he took the form of a human being, coming here, from heaven, from that other place, to save us from our sins.
In this story from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the three disciples with Jesus– Peter, James, and John– get a glimpse of that other realm. Jesus is ‘transfigured’ before them. Transfiguration Sunday (February 23 this year) is the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. This is where that word comes from. Jesus is changed, ‘transfigured,’ back and forth before their very eyes, from an earthly being to a heavenly being and then back to his earthly form. Verse 29 tells us his whole appearance was different; “his face is changed, and his clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning.”
Then there appeared with Jesus two men who lived long ago and were long gone from this earth, Moses and Elijah. Both men were highly revered in Israel, but both had been gone from this world for many centuries. Moses had died and long ago turned to dust, and Elijah had been taken directly into heaven, off to that ‘other world’ in fiery chariot. Neither one had walked in this world for hundreds of years. But Peter, James, and John were no longer seeing this world. They were looking behind and beyond the veil into that other world where those who are dead and gone from here, live again.
Jesus Christ was true God and true man, says the catechism. Here, the disciples were seeing Jesus as ‘true God.’ We believe ‘in the resurrection from the dead,’ says the apostle’s creed. Here the disciples were seeing that promised fulfilled before their very eyes. That is what is beyond the veil.
Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland and The Narnia Chronicles are all wonderful to read because they tap into a very real hope that is deep within us all– a hope that has been in us from the very creation of the world. We were created for God and for life in His home, but for the few years of this life, we do not see God. But someday we will, says the Bible, and in the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got a glimpse. But unlike the children’s stories, this story is not just entertaining reading. Rather, it is the hope and destiny of all who will believe it.
That other world will be different. There we will not say, “Oh my, where does the time go,” because the time will just go on and on. And so also in that other world we will not ever have to say, “Well there won’t be any time for this or that.” And, unlike sometimes here in this world, we won’t get so sick of being sick, or tired of being tired, or weary of having troubles, getting hurt, or being lonely and sad, that we say, “I don’t even care if I live or die.” We won’t ever say that there, because there, as the old hymn sings, “after this life shall cease, within that veil, we shall possess, a life of joy and peace.”
When was dying, someone asked the 47 year old writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau if he was prepared to enter the next world. He replied, “One world at a time.” That is a clever, but wrong answer. “Watch, be prepared,” Jesus kept on telling everyone, for told us that this world would end and if we are ready, he would take us to His home in that other world.
That is a promise that is worth being ready for.
And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess within the veil, a life of Joy and Peace.
When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less time to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.
–Amazing Grace, John Newton