An excerpt from “Christ Will Come…Today?”
A sermon from Transfiguration Sunday, 2008
by Rev. Durrell Watkins
Mark, writing in or near the year 70 CE, some 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, puts these words into the mouth of the Jesus of his imagination: “I say to you there are some standing HERE who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power.” Mark’s community has been waiting 40 years already and Mark is convinced the wait is almost over; and maybe it was, and maybe it is.
In verse 2 of our reading today we are told that after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Already, there is a wealth of symbolism that we should not ignore.
In the bible, the high mountain is where a prophet goes to encounter the Divine. The Mountain top experience is a metaphor for being in the presence of God. Jesus enters into the divine presence – that kingdom which is always at hand.
When does Jesus do this? After six days, but six days after what? We may remember from the book of Exodus that Moses took a friend with him up a high mountain. Moses takes Joshua up the mountain of God where the Shekinah glory of God, in the form of a bright cloud, covers the mountain for SIX DAYS and on the seventh Moses hears the voice of God (Exodus 24.16).
Shekinah is a word used in ancient rabbinical literature to refer to the glory of God. Shekinah is the maternal nature of God…and after communing with the maternal presence of God for six days, Moses and Joshua are able to actually hear from their inner-most divinity.
In any case, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John…why those three? Charles Fillmore believed that each of the apostles represented a spiritual quality. He identified Peter with the development of Faith, James with Wisdom, and John with Love.
Perhaps Jesus is taking Faith, Wisdom, and Love, the trinity of his being up the high mountain, the presence of God, because it is faith, wisdom, and love that will guide his mission and those are in fact the qualities of God. To enter into the presence of God is to increase in the experience of faith, wisdom, and love.
Jesus goes up the mountain, and Mark says, “Jesus was transfigured…and his clothes became dazzling…” In Eastern mysticism, faces and bodies of the righteous are often depicted as beaming with divine illumination. Also, we remember the story of Moses on a high mountain with God, coming down and having been in the presence of God his face had become radiant or dazzling (Exodus 34.30).
Furthermore, 15 or 20 years before Mark’s gospel, St. Paul wrote, “All of us gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3.18).
Mark is continuing the tradition of depicting communion with God as being something that releases divine light in our lives…we shine with the very holiness of God in whose image we are made when we allow ourselves to believe in the God of our being, and to encounter the divine light and love that is always within us.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration may actually be the story of our own! When we experience the glory of the Lord [the Life Principle] we are transformed into the SAME IMAGE from glory to glory…
The next thing we see in Mark’s story is that Moses and Elijah show up. We’ve already recalled some stories of Moses on the mountain of God, but Elijah also spent time on the mountain (1 Kings 19.11). And now, with Jesus on the mountain, they return, the symbols of the law and the prophets. Moses the Law-giver and Elijah the great prophet are symbols of scriptural teaching…those teachings that encourage faith, wisdom, and love.
What is the bottom line of scripture, the law and the prophets? “Do unto others whatever you would have them do to you. THIS IS THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS” (Matthew 7.12). Moses and Elijah are reminders of what the Law and the Prophets are really trying to teach, and those teachings are continued in the ministry of Jesus.
Living a life of kindness, generosity, and goodwill, this is what the bible teaches. It isn’t about who to blame, who to be against, who to hate, who to change, who to convert…it’s about treating the next person with the dignity and compassion you would like to receive. And the symbols of that simple but world changing message are present in Mark’s story to show what following Jesus really means.
Then, Peter wants to pitch three tents to mark the occasion. He didn’t know what to do, but he wanted to do something. Other than on the mountain of God, where was the Shekinah glory of God experienced? When people gathered to study the scriptures, or to pray, in the tabernacle, and in the Temple. In fact, a tabernacle is basically a tent!
So, building shelters, or tents, is actually a reasonable response to the glory of God. When we experience God, we want to give, we want to share, we want to create, we want to do something good! Peter’s response is appropriate.
Then, in the Mothering Presence of God, with wisdom, faith, and love attending, we hear the voice of God saying about Jesus, “this is my child. Listen to him.”
Listen to him…don’t make him into an idol, don’t create a lot of complicated doctrines about him, listen to him and do what he says…love your neighbor, work for justice, resist oppression, pray for one another, include those who have been excluded, cultivate wisdom, faith and love. And then “Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.”
Listen to Jesus; follow his example. And when we hear that message and embrace it, we see only the Christ of our being, the perfect Idea that we are in the mind and heart of God. We see our goodness, and we commit to sharing it with the world.
“I say to you there are some standing HERE who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God HAS COME in power.” Mark says, the return of Christ, for some here, is immanent…and then he shows them how.
The return of Christ happens when we go inward into the presence of God, that high mountain of our own soul, and we take with us the wisdom, love, and faith that God has poured into our hearts, and devote ourselves to that experience, following the Christ-way of love and hope and healing and compassion, and we are bound to experience the power of divine glory so powerfully that we wind up seeing only the Truth, the Christ within; and in that moment, Christ has returned in power and in glory. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1.27).
I stand here willing to say exactly what Mark said, “there are some here TODAY who will experience the coming of Christ in their own lives.”
Not something out there, but something right here, right now. And with that experience will come hope and healing and happiness. Today, we can enter into the divine presence, that high mountain of God, and discover there the Christ in US, the hope of glory.
This is the good news. Amen.
Durrell Watkins (c) 2008