Dear Working Preachers, I feel like I need to begin with some rather unsolicited advice: do not preach some sort of sermon on the how the Transfiguration matters. Preach about how what the Transfiguration means actually matters. Yes, I get that this is complicated syntax. But stick with me. No sermon on the fact that the Transfiguration is some sort of amazing event on its own will save anybody. But a sermon on the fact that the Transfiguration represents something that leads to salvation might very well save someone.
And what is that something? Change. At its core, the Transfiguration insists that change is difficult but needed. Change rocks your world, but likely your world needed some sort of earthquake kind of event. Change demands reorientation and sometimes the change happens before the new perspective is adequately in place.
I suspect Peter is caught in that suspension between wanting things to stay the same and knowing that change is afoot.
So, we build tents. A rather apt metaphor for this in between experience. Not permanent structures, but structures just the same — to give us more time, to hold on to something we likely know cannot be held. To capture, albeit briefly, a moment that might very well carry us through the change that is about to happen.
The Transfiguration is that threshold moment between what was and what is to come. You get a glimpse of what could be, when actually, it was all along. You know what I mean, right? It’s not that we haven’t seen the change coming. It’s not that we haven’t recognized what the change might look like. We just wonder if we are ready. If we can we handle it. If we are prepared. We erect temporary structures as an act of entrenchment but also to capture a memory to cope with what is to come.
Yes, Peter wants Jesus to stay. But Peter also needs the memory to stay — the glory, the confirmation, the assurance, the promise, the declaration — because he will need it later on — and big time.
Letting go is almost impossible without the act of holding on.
As we move into Lent, this seems essential. Holding on when letting go — letting go of our images of God. Letting go of control. Letting go of certainty. Letting go of conviction. Even letting go of the crucifixion.
The Transfiguration is an apt and fitting story to transition us to Lent because it insists that we keep what was and what can be in tension: the what can be of Lent and Easter, the what that is essential to the Christian faith, is both constant change and yet a resistance to it.
Lest we think this is something uniquely necessary for faith, we only need recognize one degree of separation in our own lives. This is our life.
Not always. I get that. But a lot more than we realize or that we care to admit. We are in constant movement of change in relationships — with partners, with friends, with children. We know change in our vocations — new churches, new calls. We recognize major life changes — graduations, marriages, children.
Change, by definition, is a simultaneous holding on of what was and a looking toward the hope of what can be. And that’s why it is rather excruciating. Change insists that you exist in a place you don’t want to be. Change demands that you abide in a space of yet to be resolution. Change creates a sense of grief over what was and yet excitement for what is to come.
Preach that, dear friends. Preach the pathos of this moment. Not blame of Peter. Not blame of the fear of change. Not “let’s be better than Peter” as if we could know better. Really?
No, preach the Transfiguration moment, that moment when you know change has to happen but you are not quite ready. That moment when you have a hundred million reasons to walk away but you just need one good one to stay (Million Reasons, Lady Gaga). That moment when you are desperate to hold on and yet you know you have to leave. That moment when you need to leave and yet you insist on holding on.
That’s Transfiguration. It’s not the glory. It’s not some sort of “get over it and come down the mountain” lesson. It’s both. It’s faith. It’s the sense that change is necessary but yet that truth is hard to accept. It’s the knowing that moving on is essential but you have yet to reconcile the past. It’s realizing what you need to walk into, what you have to live in to, is so incredibly hard when you have yet to come to terms with why you should.
Change matters are heart and soul matters. Change exposes. Change changes. But change matters are the very essence of our faith.