There is a site on the Web where people can record their stories about sleep deprivation. In one story entitled “If it’s not narcolepsy then what is it?” a 24-year-old shared, “It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get, I’m always dragging …. I can’t tell when I actually fall asleep because I think I’m awake sometimes and then I wake up to realize I was asleep.”
This particular story caught my attention because there was no response to what the young man had posted. I had hoped that he might have had an easy diagnosis or an outright cure; no such luck. The other reason this story caught my attention is that many of us might also suffer from this man’s condition: “I think I’m awake … but realize that I’m asleep.”
I went looking for such stories because of all the gospel writers, Luke uniquely says that Peter and James and John were “weighed down with sleep” while Jesus was glowing up on the mountain top. Luke adds, “but since they had stayed awake, they saw [Jesus’] glory [whatever THAT is!] and [they saw] the two men who stood with him,” two men who by all rational explanations should NOT have been on that mountain with Jesus.
Were these three disciples awake, or asleep? Edward F. Markquart, a Lutheran preacher I greatly admire, insists that Peter and company were seeing a vision. In other words, they were awake but asleep at the same time. <<UT, UH>> That was MATTHEW’s explanation. Matthew says that, as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus told these disciples, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” MARK says that Jesus told them “tell no one about what they had SEEN.” No mention of a vision; just plain old sight. LUKE says that these disciples only had been able to see what had occurred since they had stayed awake to what was happening there.
So this is Luke’s testimony: that there are moments where we can glimpse the ultimate reality of life, moments that cannot be rationally explained. Yet these moments are windows into the Truth that lies beyond our perceptions of everyday life, if only we are awake to see them.
I call these moments of absolute clarity “transfiguration moments.” Afterwards our lives are physically the same as before, but we are changed, our perceptions are changed because we recognize God at work in our lives; we are moved into mission: we are transfigured.
We call this event in today’s gospel lesson “the transfiguration of Jesus” because his face and his clothes glowed in an unusually brilliant way. Just like Moses’ face had shone after he had talked with God. Suddenly Moses and Elijah were there with Jesus, talking to Jesus. And THEN, a voice from heaven—God-the-Father himself—gave Jesus the ultimate affirmation: “This is my Son, My Chosen; listen to him!”
I think this event transfigured Peter and James and John as much as Jesus. Jesus already KNEW who he was and what he was here to do. These disciples, on the other hand, were just figuring out Jesus’ identity and mission. THEY were transfigured. And they were terrified.
I love what our lesson explains about these three disciples. Luke tells us that they were very sleepy, but “since they had stayed awake, then [saw what was going on before their very eyes].” What this tells us is that transfiguration happens to people who are awake to God in our midst, awake to God wanting to work in and through us. Peter and James and John GOT IT all right, understood that Jesus wasn’t just God-made-flesh, but also flesh-made-God. They just didn’t know right away what to DO with this knowledge.
Transfiguration: moments in life when something seems to fall away so that we can see the ultimate reality that lies behind our everyday attention. And during transfiguration moments time can change radically. The past and present and future all converge on one timeless reality: GOD. We see this in our gospel lesson today: the prophets of the past met the Voice of the present and radiated with a future joy.
I’m betting that you—most of you—have experienced at least one transfiguration moment in your life. I’m betting that you can recall at least one time when your past and present become so aware of God that the transfiguration altered your future. If so, you know that what we see and hear and feel every day are not all that is. You know that our future is life and not death. If you haven’t yet experienced transfiguration, wake up, look around: at the Eucharist today there is opportunity to glimpse what is very real and eternal. Wake up, look around: this community embodies the eternal to the extent that we see what’s real and know what to DO with our transfiguration.
When and where did your transfiguration occur? Jesus’ occurred at the top of a mountain, as he and two prophets long gone discussed Jesus’ coming “exodus” from this life in Jerusalem. In other words, they discussed Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. Peter, James, and John’s transfiguration occurred when they remained awake and experienced God in their midst rather than continue to live in denial.
Maybe your transfiguration occurred when someone you love died and you found the grace to go on thanking God for life. Or maybe your transfiguration happened when you became very ill and death no longer terrified you. Or maybe your transfiguration occurred in the midst of a disaster or act of terrorism that rocked you to your very core, yet you did not blame God. Maybe your transfiguration occurred when someone helped you greatly when you were down and out and you saw Jesus in their actions. However you came by transfiguration, know that what occurred is very real, even if we cannot rationally explain what changed us.
If you have been transfigured, NOW is the time to tell someone what you are awake enough to see. If you have not yet experienced transfiguration, wake up, look around. Then come to THIS mountain and pray that God will show you his presence and radically transform your life by his love.