Two weekends ago while on retreat with our high school youth at camp Nawakwa, I had the chance to lead a hike to Upper Temple at 10:00 on Saturday night.
In my years of retreat leadership at Nawakwa, I’ve been to Upper Temple dozens of times – most of them at night, to be honest. Teens like to hike the path in the dark. (Sanctuary lights darken) It makes you feel more connected to the natural world around you. As you exit the woods on the southern border of the Nawakwa, you can see the sky again, and if the night is clear you can see the stars of the heavens. (Two ceiling spotlights are lit) If you walk to the edge of the hill, you can gaze out upon even more lights as you can see the towns of Gettysburg and Fairfield from the hill. Suddenly, the night does not seem as dark as it did when the hike began. After a few minutes under the stars, we walk back through Upper Temple. It is then, in the middle of this small stone amphitheater, that you find yourself thinking about the one light that has gathered you together with others – the light of Christ. (Paschal Candle is lit)
In our Gospel Lesson today, we read about a hike up a different mountain … what is called today, the Mount of Transfiguration. It is known today as Mount Tabor, and stands about 5 miles east of Nazareth in Israel. While it is a much more difficult hike than the one I took a couple of weeks ago, we are not told the details of the hike. What we do know is that three of the four who made that hike, Peter, James and John, also saw the light of Christ … in the flesh. Different people have different ideas about what the Transfiguration means in the Gospel of Matthew … or for that matter, in the Gospels of Luke or Mark, who also record the story. Some think it connects to the Exodus story and Moses shining face … others speak of the Festival of Booths … some think Jesus wilderness temptation is a connecting point. But most would agree that what we see on the Mount of Transfiguration is an image of the resurrected Jesus. That the three disciples who are with Jesus … and you and me through this story … get a glimpse of how the story ends. That we get to fast forward through the journey to Jerusalem … and the betrayal of Jesus … That we are invited to look beyond the death of Jesus … and the waiting and wondering of the world until Easter Sunday morning … when we see the Light of Christ in all its glory. Now if that doesn’t convince you, then our story also tells us that a bright cloud also overshadowed Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Spotlight on Paschal Candle is lit) Yes, the light of God’s presence also shines upon Jesus in the Transfiguration. So that, just in case we have missed the point, God gives us a little clue about the special relationship Jesus has with the Father in Heaven.
This my friends, is our symbolic representation of the Light of Christ … since we live between the time of Jesus and Transfiguration of Jesus and the Resurrection of Jesus … and the final time someday in the future when the risen Christ will come back to the world and show us the Light of Christ in its final and complete glory. This is our symbolic Light of Christ, which calls us to serve in this world that can be pretty dark sometimes, so that we can bring the Light of Christ to others … so that we can BE the Light of Christ to other. That is the message of today’s Transfiguration Sunday. But unfortunately, just like Peter, James and John … we cannot stay on the mountain. (Sanctuary lights darken) Instead we are called to come back down from, the heavens, and bring the light that we have seen into the lives of all those who need it.
Do me a favor … pull out your cell phones, if you would be so kind. Find your flashlight app … or if you have an iPhone, pull up your Control Center screen … the flashlight is right there, usually on the bottom left. Turn it on … go ahead, turn it on. Shine it around a little bit. If you don’t have a flashlight app on your phone, just turn on a screen that has a bright background. Some lights shine a little brighter than others. If you don’t have a phone with you, the just smile real bright. Light shines into the world in a lot of different ways. See that? That is what you are supposed to be doing in life … shining the light of Christ into the lives of other people. Being the light of Christ in the lives of other people.
You know as well as I do, that the world can be a dark place. It needs all the light it can get. God has called you to be that light … and I’m not talking about your phone now … I’m talkin’ about you. God has called you to be the Light of Christ to a world in need. You can name the places where darkness reigns as easily as I can. Places where people are in trouble … Places where communities have lost their way … Places where resources are being used poorly … Places where the word “me” is more important than the word “us.”
I know … I know … in our Gospel Lesson, Jesus told the disciples not to say anything about what they had seen on the mountain. People who make their living writing about the Bible call this “the Messianic Secret.” It is found first in Mark’s Gospel. The idea is that Jesus isn’t the messiah until he dies and it raised again. So in today’s story, even though the mountaintop experience is a reminder of the resurrected Jesus who will be our messiah … the disciples have to keep it secret … until Jesus will in fact die and then be raised to New Life by God. That is the Messianic Secret … and it became obsolete as soon as Jesus was raised to life in the first century. So you have no excuse. Now get busy … not by shining your iPhone flashlight around the joint … but by being the Light of Christ to others. Amen.