It was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Draco Malfoy attempted to jinx Harry when his back was turned, but in the knick of time Madeye Moody stepped in and hit Draco with a transfiguration curse and turned him into a white ferret. I mention this because today, when some folks hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus – as we did today in our Gospel reading – they now think it was Jesus performing a bit of magic, just like they assume he did when he changed water into wine or walked on the water.
Yet the Transfiguration was not a magic trick – it was a revealing of Jesus in all his glory. The light that the apostles witnessed was not a light from above, but was instead the glory of God radiating outward from within Jesus. It showed him as he truly is and it showed him as we will one day not only see him, but see ourselves when we are restored to our Father. As Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new” and this is what we will be when we are made new in Christ.
The only problem, that is then and this is now. Then we radiate the glory of God, but now we have six loads of dirty laundry in the basement that have got to be washed. There is the Transfigured Lord and there we will one day be and there lays piles and piles of dirty laundry! How can the two possibly be reconciled in this life?! We ask that question as though we are the first to encounter such a predicament, but as we all know, that’s the way of history.
Take for example those two men who were seen with Jesus on the mountaintop, Moses and Elijah. Moses was the great savior of the people from Egypt and the one who presented God’s law to the people. Moses went up on the mountain and witnessed the glory of the Lord. He saw Him in the burning bush. He saw God in the cloud. The glory of the Lord passed before Moses as he stood protected in a crevice in the mountain. Moses comes off the mountain, he is glowing with glory of the Lord. God has given him the ten commandments, written on two stone tablets by God’s own hand and what does Moses encounter when he gets down off the mountain? The people have made a golden calf and they are all dancing the hoochy coochy around it. He is literally radiating with the Glory of God and yet he’s surrounded by piles and piles of dirty laundry.
The prophet Elijah, he was in fear for his life. The people were trying to kill him. The Lord said to him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Scripture details the encounter, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” Elijah climbed the mountain and encountered God in the still small voice. He came down off the mountain and found himself back in the laundry room.
The same occurred with Jesus. He was transfigured and as soon as he came down off the mountain there were people calling to him for help. The apostles who had witnessed the Transfiguration, when they came off the mountain they would not be floating through life on angel wings. No. In just a few short weeks they would witness the Transfigured Christ being arrested, beaten, and crucified. There is the mountain, the transfiguration of the Lord, the glory of the Lord all around, and no sooner than you think you have found the answer – finally gotten it right – then you crash back down again to what we so simply refer to as the “real world.”
However, even in the midst of that “real world,” you will never be the same, because in the Transfiguration you have seen what will be. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to in his famous speech. He declared, “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
We have a tendency to say, “When I get all this laundry done, then I will be with God. I’ll stop and pray when the “real world” just isn’t so dang real.” Yet the Lord would have us understand that what we witness on the mountain is not something that we leave up there. Instead, we bring it with us. We cherish it. We allow the light of that one transfigured moment to penetrate every aspect of our lives. Not just as a dream of things to come, but as a promise for today.
The theologian John Brodie wrote, “Oneness with ultimate reality [with God] is not an abstract idea; it is a spiritual experience of knowing that the timeless God is at the door inviting you to full union. It is an attentiveness to the present, a readiness, at every moment, to receive reality, to enjoy deeply even the simplest things. In the words of the poet Paul Murray: ‘This moment, the grace of this one raptureless moment… the grace of this one joyfully ecstatic moment.’” It applies to every aspect of our life. Consider how much time you spend worrying. Can you change yesterday? Can you change tomorrow? You are here. This – right now – is the time of your life. This is where you will encounter the immediate presence of God. You are going to have to do laundry – everything from having to turn the nasty socks right side out to dealing with all the other things, good and bad, that life has to throw at you, but there is this confidence in knowing that God is with us. Blessed Bonaventure instructs us wonderfully, “In the midst of our employments – in the midst of our daily lives – we ought to have God present to our minds, in imitation of the holy Angels who when they are sent to attend on us.. quiet themselves of the function of this exterior ministry as never to be drawn from their interior attention to God.” The angels don’t allow things outside of themselves to draw them from the glory of God that is within. Here is a challenge for you: The next time you have some menial boring task to attend to, perform it well, but do so with the glory of the Transfigured Lord in your heart and see what a difference it makes.
The Transfiguration is a glimpse. It is a sacred snapshot of what is to come and it reminds us that whether we are on the mountain with God or in the laundry room with piles of dirty laundry – God is with us. The service of Evening Prayer contains one of the most ancient Christian hymns, the Phos hilaron, “O Gracious Light”. In it we declare of God, “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.” At all times! Not just when we are in church for an hour on Sunday or when it is convenient or when we are in the right mood, but at all times. At all times we can know the glory of the Transfigured Lord. We can radiate his glory, not from above, but from within and be transfigured as he is.