Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Text:  Matthew 17: 1-9

Every year, the story we’ve just heard, is the story we read on the Sunday right before we move into the season of Lent.  It’s the story that wraps up the season of Epiphany  … that season that  hands us  story upon story of these moments of revelation, where God’s grace-filled presence is visibly alive and at work in Jesus.  Epiphany  culminates with this electrifying story of Jesus on the mountaintop, shining like the sun -- the story of his transfiguration as it’s called.  Every year this is the one we read on this Sunday, which when I do the math, means that I’ve sat with this story in preparation for preaching over 30 times!   And this year, it’s different.  

It’s different because of an experience back in July with my Dad two days before he died.  Dad was in hospital with the family gathered around him like we had been for a week already.  By now he was sleeping a lot, no longer conversing, and while it seemed he could slip away fairly soon, we imagined we would be at least one more night at the hospital with him.  In those early days we had brought a small tv and dvd player to his room imagining that watching some of his favourite movies together would be a helpful and enjoyable way to spend an evening.  On this night we knew Dad wouldn’t be watching the Sound of Music, but the soundtrack perhaps, he might appreciate that.  So we transformed the room into a movie theatre and Maria took us away … which within about 10 minutes was not where we wanted to be.  Away.   

There was Dad, as I imagined him, working away in his own deep process and it seemed to me the movie was more of a distraction than anything.  So we shut it down and gathered ourselves back around his bed, to be with him, and for him.   And that’s when it started to happen.  There was this change coming over his face as he began to smile.  And the smile kept getting wider and bigger.  And his eyes, though they were closed, you could tell they were wide open.  And there was this incredible expression of delight that kept growing and growing.  I remember saying to the others, are you seeing this? – just checking that  I wasn’t imagining it.  They all were nodding ‘yes!’ It went on for easily 15, 20 minutes.  I don’t know what or who Dad was seeing or sensing, just that it seemed more and more kept coming to him. All I know is that his face was radiant with unimaginable joy.  Whatever was going on for him, it was something beautiful beyond telling.

The other thing about it … it was hugely healing for me, and for the rest of us.  Where he and we had experienced such pain, this transformed that completely, and eased the days that lay ahead in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  

I’ll never read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration without recalling that experience with my Dad.  Not only that.  There’s a way in which this experience now informs my reading of the story we have in the Gospels. You see, typically we’re not long finished reading the story before someone picks on Peter … “there he goes again.”  Ever the one to be there for Jesus, ever rising to the occasion, none of the others are as eager as Peter to do right by Jesus.  So here he is in this moment witnessing Jesus joined by these companions of such stature.   Here is Peter at the ready to make a way for them to linger, to stay, to abide together.  But that’s Peter for you, the interpretation often goes, wanting to prolong this experience of mystical union.  Meanwhile, there’s work that awaits them at the foot of the mountain, in the messiness of real life.   Forget your desire to escape the need and the suffering, and get back to work, to what really matters.  How often have we heard that take on this story?…maybe with a little more subtlety … maybe!  

But what about this?  What if these experiences of mystical union, of unimaginable joy, of beautiful beyond all telling – what if they are every bit as real and God-given as each expression of need, or cry for help. What if they are intended for us to feed us, to heal us, to help us make our way through the grief and suffering that inevitably lies ahead?    What if they are intended for us  to show us how wide and wild our reality truly is? What if we are made with the capacity to experience wonder and awe however  it comes to us.  It might be in holding a new born baby for the first time or catching a glimpse of a tree after the rain now lit up with a million million diamonds, the way the raindrops are holding the sun.  What if we are made with the capacity to experience wonder and awe however it comes … for sheer pleasure … that we might taste and see that God is good!  

Was Peter’s suggestion of creating a dwelling place –was it because he was so lost in a fog? lost his head? I don’t think so!  I think the man was wonderstruck, tuned in to Love Divine.  “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” he exclaims.  “No kidding!” I want to say to Peter!  “And of course you want it to last and last and last!”  

What are we to make of what Peter and the others witnessed that day?  What did they make of it? And Jesus himself?  It’s hard to know.   That our world is more porous than we might have thought … that those who have gone before, who are seemingly long gone, are just as much by our side--  is that what they and we are being given to know and trust?   That there’s no telling, no limit to the ways and circumstances that the light and mercy of God will breakthrough, to us, through us?   That yes, there is indeed a world of need that awaits our response of love, of care.  But we are also made for delight, for pleasure.  Maybe that too is what we are being given to know and trust … that there is also a place and a need for us to find ourselves lost in wonder, love and praise.  

“It turns out that there is truth to the traditional interpretation of our story – that we cannot forever stay on the mountaintop. But the reason we cannot stay is not because it isn’t good for us to be on the summit and desire such glory. It is in fact the supreme good. To want that glory is to desire God. It is also true that while we await the final, full breakthrough of divine pleasure upon the world, we have much work to do. But this work is not the busyness and effort, the demand and expectation, the dread and drudgery that we (may) have been taught is pleasing to God. The work of people of faith is more wonder than competence, more surrender than skill, more beauty and imagination than plans and programs, more gratitude and praise than effort and exhaustion.”[1]  

So then let this be our prayer …  

That when the wall

between the worlds

of the living and the dead, 

between our present and the future


when the wall

between the worlds

is too firm,

too closed

when it seems

all solidity

and sharp edges

Then may we be given

a glimpse

of how weak the wall

and how strong what stirs

on the other side,

breathing with us

and blessing us


forever bound to us

but freeing us

into this living,

into this world

so much wider

than we ever knew.[1]

                        -Jan Richardson, adapted.

[1] Mary Luti, The Feast of the Transfiguration – It is good for us to be here

[2] Jan Richardson, “Your most daring openness to eternity,” from her “Women’s Christmas Retreat 2019, p. 32