Grace and Peace to you.
This Sunday is the Sunday of the Transfiguration. It’s a strange story in which Jesus shines with light on a mountain top. We usually hear it out of context: Jesus and three disciples go up a mountain, they have a vision of Jesus transfigured, God says, “This is my Beloved; listen to him,” and they come down the mountain. The end. What a nice story —weird, but reassuring—a story of Jesus shining with the glory of his divine nature.
But notice this: the story doesn’t start, “Once upon a time…” It starts like this: “Six days after that…” Wait. Six days after what? Turns out six days earlier Jesus told his followers he was going to die. Peter said, “God forbid!” But Jesus asked them to take up their cross and follow him. So in this story God seems to say, especially to Peter, “Listen up. He’s right.” Peter’s expectation that Jesus will escape suffering is overruled. But it’s consumed not in gloom, but in light. God affirms the way of the cross, and assures the disciples that it leads not to darkness but to glory.
Up on that mountain Jesus is not just shining because he’s divine. He’s shining with the light of resurrection. He’s shining as reassurance that this journey through the valley of the shadow of death will lead to glory, not darkness. That’s the light that will lead Jesus, and his followers, and us, through great trials, and on to new life. This is why we hear the story of the Transfiguration right before we enter Lent. As we journey toward Good Friday, we are assured beforehand of Easter.
St. Matthew’s Church is going through some changes—not a real valley of the shadow of death, but certainly some challenges. Some beloved members have died or moved away. Many of the people and programs we are accustomed to are no longer here. New people are joining us, and they are wonderful people. But even that creates disturbances as we shift toward new energies and priorities. The world is asking new things of us. And our giving is not keeping up with the staffing we’re used to. We are facing some sacrifices. All this can make it feel to some people like we’re headed downhill into a valley of shadows. Well, it’s not that bad.
But even more importantly, whatever shadows it seems we’re heading for, we’re walking toward resurrection. Jesus leads us into the future not with dread but with hope and joy as we seek new life. Yes, there will be sacrifices and painful moments along the way. There must be death for there to be resurrection. But we are walking in the light of God’s grace. Our trials lead toward new life. As we face these challenges to our budget and our life together there is no reason to be afraid. There is no reason for blame or despair. God is going with us through a transition that will seem like hard labor— until we realize it’s a new birth.
St. Matthew’s is being renewed. We don’t know how yet. We don’t know exactly what our future will look like. Some things will change; others will remain steadfast. But through it all, God is with us. Jesus walks beside us, shining with the light of resurrection. Like the disciples on the mountain, we may feel afraid, and we will be tempted to listen to our fears. But God whispers to us, “This is my beloved. Listen to him.” All we have to do is listen for his voice, and look for his light, the light of resurrection that comes from the way of the cross: the way of self-giving, forgiveness, trust and love. It will call out our greatest gifts and deepen our faith. If we walk by the light of the risen Christ, if we stay close enough to him to follow his light, we’ll enter a bright new world we couldn’t have otherwise imagined.
Walk down the mountain into the valley. Stay with Jesus. Listen to him. This is going to be good.