We use some weird words in church. Some, like consubstantiation, that is, how we understand communion in the Lutheran world, rightly stay in seminary classrooms and pastor text studies. Even then, it is the slightly nerdy pastors that sit around bandying around the ins and outs of what consubstantiation means. Most of us just go along with the communion being the real forgiveness from Christ and the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine or grape juice.
There are other words, that show up directly in the Bible that can be just as confusing but since they’re directly in the Bible we can’t exactly avoid them. Like transfiguration. In today’s reading.
What in the world is transfiguration? Harry Potter fans may remember author J.K. Rowling defining transfiguration as “Transfiguration is a very systematic, exact magical discipline, working best for the scientifically-inclined mind and as such it is deemed “very hard work.” While that may be a fine definition for the young magicians at Hogwarts, that doesn’t seem quite right for what Jesus and the disciples are doing. Merriam Webster dictionary says it is a change in form or appearance. Or an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change. The dictionary does have an entry that describes the same details we have in the reading. Mountaintop, disciples, and so forth.
I’m not certain that Hogwarts or the dictionary gives us much in the way of guidance when it comes to what transfiguration means. We may have to unpack that with what we know about the characters involved.
There isn’t much question how Peter, James, and John are connected with Jesus. They’re about to embark on a grand new adventure of faith. An adventure that would literally change the course of history then and continues to do so today. An adventure that included a violent death on a cross and a glorious resurrection. With events like that about to happen, the people are going to need a little help to hold on to their faith and make sense of their lives.
This is where God steps in. God knows that things are going to get very interesting for Jesus in the very near future. The religious authorities are going to set up the circumstances that will see the Roman authorities execute Jesus on a cross. In front of God and everybody. That was certainly an event in time for Jesus but it likely had a profound effect on his followers. A week earlier they’re celebrating his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the new king who is going to make it all better. In fact, he does exactly that but not in the way they expected. Now they are seeing him crucified. What would that be like for them? How about for you? Think back to people in your life who have been important in shaping your faith. If you saw them literally crucified, what effect would that have on your life?
No question there’s going to be an effect. Seeing something like that would have a profound effect on a person’s faith. God knows the people will struggle with seeing Jesus crucified and steps in to help them out. God does that by bringing the pillars of their faith, Elijah and Moses, to ground the people and give them a solid foundation for continuing on and not being crushed by such an event. Elijah, representing all the prophets, and Moses, reminding them of the Law and God’s saving grace in the exodus from slavery, join together with Jesus in a way that assures everyone of God’s presence. The idea of the prophets and the law being together with Jesus lets the people rely on the foundation of their faith as they step into a new way of being God’s people.
A new way of being God’s people, living with the hope of forgiveness thanks to that crucifiction of Christ on the cross. A new way of being God’s people, living with the hope of eternal life thanks to the resurrection of Christ three days after that crucifixion.
Having a solid foundation of faith is an important part of moving into the future. Spirit of Hope had its first worship service on September 13, 2009. It is interesting to ponder the beginnings of Spirit of Hope and how things have moved forward. There was a time when you could say that everyone here had a different history. At that first worship service in September of 2009 something new and different began. Our first baptism was on Nov 1 of that year so you could say for the first couple of months of Spirit of Hope’s existence, everyone came from somewhere else. Now days, there’s a whole lot of folks, including me, who came from somewhere else after Spirit of Hope got going.
We brought forward our history as people of faith as the foundation from which we got started as a community of faith. Without that foundation we become a country club with a cross on top. With that foundation we became instead a gathering of people making a difference in our community. It is interesting, and holy in a way, to think about how far we have come in the last decade. We’ve done things differently, we’ve made some mistakes, but all in all we have a good history that sets a solid foundation for the future. Like the people around Jesus’ transfiguration, we are rooted in our history but it is in the present that we live and to the future we must look.
What does that future hold? That’s where we turn to the Holy Spirit. Each of us own the task of listening for the Holy Spirit to direct our path. We’ve tried to be faithful to that and we’ve done a fair job as a community of faith doing exactly that. It’s not always easy and it’s not always clear but working off that foundation of faith that we brought to Spirit of Hope, we continue into the future with hope as we are Bringing Christ’s Love to Life. There’s nothing confusing about those words!