In the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry attends the wedding of two dear friends, Bill and Fleur. We read that Fleur is magically beautiful. Her beauty eclipses everyone around her. Men are left speechless, and women seethe.
But at her wedding Fleur wears a tiara that holds a different sort of magic. The tiara transfigures those around her. Unlike most weddings, where the bride is the center of attention; at this wedding everyone around the bride appears to glow. The tiara shares Fleur’s beauty. The wedding guests do not understand how they never noticed their beauty before.
We often make Jesus the center of attention in the Transfiguration. It’s hard not to. On the high mountain Matthew writes:
and Jesus’ face shone like the sun. His clothes became a dazzling white.
Jesus takes on his heavenly nature.
But there’s guests up on this mountain. Watching this miracle are Peter, James, and John.
Jesus is not wearing a tiara this morning, but like Fleur in Harry Potter, I see his transfiguration sharing his glow with his three guests.
Of course, this transfiguration is not about beauty, it’s not even about appearance; Jesus’ transfiguration is about being encountered with the power of the divine.
And we see how this is traumatic.
It’s like sun glare.
We know this is a problem this time of year. The sun is rising and setting right when we are out on the road. Suddenly the sun is in your eyes and you are blinded. You can’t see the road. It’s scary.
This morning Peter, James, and John are blinded. It’s why Peter wants to pitch tents. He wants to cover the glare. He wants to be able to see, to understand, to have some bit of control over what is happening.
Notice that while Peter speaks, God interrupts.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them
Strange, isn’t it? I’ve heard of dark clouds. I’ve heard of storm clouds. I’ve heard of fluffy clouds. But have you ever heard of a bright cloud?
Maybe it’s enough of a cloud to take away the glare.
Remember that in the Bible God is in the clouds. Here again, as this cloud overshadows these three, God speaks. We haven’t heard the voice of God since Jesus’ baptism. And here God says the same words.
This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!
Our Old Testament lesson has Moses on Mount Sinai. A cloud covers that mountain too. It doesn’t say if the cloud is bright, but we hear how the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai; a glory that is like a devouring fire.
Moses, of course, is on this mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the law and the commandments. At the end of the lesson we hear:
Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
After those forty days and forty nights, do you remember how Moses appeared when he finally came down from the mountain? He looked like the guests at Fleur’s wedding.
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin his face shone because he had been talking to God.
Moses’ face was so bright he needed a veil to cut the glare so the people could talk to him.
As the bright cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John; and as the voice of God spoke; these three are knocked to the ground and overcome with fear.
But as terrifying as this mysterious encounter with the divine is, it also is very tender and comforting.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
Next these three disciples come down the mountain with Jesus. Jesus tells them not to say anything about what they just experienced, but I can’t help but feel that the people on the ground could see it in their faces.
Matthew doesn’t say it, but Peter, James, and John had to shine like Moses.
Can people see the divine in your face? Does our encounter with God show in our appearance?
This is the first Sunday in a month we are not reading the Sermon on the Mount in our gospel. But I want to return one more time to that sermon. Remember when Jesus told the disciples, “You are the light of the world?” Do you remember what the disciples were to do with that light? Don’t put it under a bushel, it cuts down the glare of the divine.
I wonder if this is what we try to do with God. We believe in God. We want God to comfort. But we don’t want God to shine too bright. Sun glare is blinding.
I have to admit that too often I’m like Peter. I want to cut the glare. I want to manage God so that he fits neatly into my world.
But C.S. Lewis in The Lion, The Wicth, and The Wardrobe reminds us that God is not a lion needing to be tamed.
The Transfiguration is more than just a show. The Transfiguration reminds us that God is beyond our control. God is beyond our imagination. But this God still God encounters us like he encounter Peter, James, and John.
Anna Carter Florence, preaching professor at Candler School of Theology, writes:
“When the God moment sprints into view or flashes across our path, when the bright cloud overshadows us and knocks us to the ground, we need to soak it in. The Transfiguration floods our eyes. It probes into the corner of every shadow. It beckons us to see what God is doing in our midst.”
Like the guests at Fleur’s wedding, we need to take on the divine glow and shine like Moses coming down from Sinai.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
We include this in our baptism service when we light the baptismal candle from the Christ candle.
The Christian life is not about cutting the glare, the Christian life is about letting the world see Jesus in our face.