What If?

The Rev. Lowell E. Grisham
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Ark.
August 7, 2011
Transfiguration Day

[Note: In order to have another baptismal feast each year, we transfer the Feast of the Transfiguration from August 6 to the first Sunday of August]

(Luke 9:28-36) – About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

***

Several years ago someone talked me into reading a book that had been making the rounds in New Age circles. I can’t recall the name of the book or its plot, but one image from the narrative has stuck in my memory and remained in my imagination.

The narrator is someone who says she has been given a gift for seeing the true spiritual identity of some people. As she travels down an urban street, she sees a disabled homeless beggar on the sidewalk—disheveled and dirty, with an empty bottle of cheap wine next to his small pile of belongings. Her gift of insight tells her, this person is not what he appears to be. This poor beggar is actually one of God’s mighty Archangels. She is led to understand that a great Archangel, one of the heroes of heaven, has chosen to return to earth as to live as an impoverished human being—disabled, vulnerable and suffering—in order to learn important lessons that an Archangel would otherwise be unable to learn.

I can’t testify to the truth of her claim of course, but I can tell you that the image has haunted my imagination, and it has made me look at some people differently. What if? What if this person’s truest identity is something wonderful, amazing and transcendent …something beyond my vision, which is often so superficial?

What if I had been living in Palestine around the eighteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius? What would I have seen had I noticed the execution of a peasant criminal from Galilee? I might have heard that he was a religious fanatic of some sort. The Jewish Sanhedrin had convicted him of blasphemy. The officials were certain, from a religious perspective—he deserved to die. I probably would have accepted their authority and opinion. I would have understood that the state charged him with treason. He was executed alongside some other terrorists.

Had I been there, I would have seen the public execution of a condemned capital criminal and religious blasphemer, sentenced to a slow, painful, humiliating crucifixion, the punishment Rome decreed as a deterrent to particularly anti-social behavior. I probably would have thought he was suffering the legal consequences of his behavior. We read about these things in our news today.

But Peter and James and John saw a different reality. One day, for just a few moments, they saw their friend and teacher in a completely different light. Was it a dream, was it a trance … a deeper sense of insight or intuition? It seemed that Jesus was transfigured in light, bright and glowing. They seemed to see him in relationship with Moses and Elijah, the great Jewish fathers of the law and prophets. Christians today might say, they saw Jesus as he really is. His true identity as Messiah, as Son of God, the only-begotten.

But the vision faded, and they didn’t know what to do with it. When the brutal reality of arrest, trial, imprisonment, physical torture and certain death was in front of them with such shocking reality, the memory of this momentary transcendent insight seemed to disappear entirely. Peter denied Jesus three times. The accounts of the other disciples vary. Mark says they all fled in fear.

What if they had remembered and treasured that earlier momentary insight as the deepest reality, the deepest truth? Would it have helped them in their time of trial?

What if? What if our truest reality is that we are children of God, God’s beloved? Full of eternal life and power and love. Look around you. Every person in your eyesight could be a radiant, divine being, full of eternal life and power and love. What if we regarded each other that way? What if we regarded ourselves that way?

The person next to you. The person on the street. The faces in the news. The image in the mirror.

Imagine, if only for a moment. The appearances all changed. Radiant. Full of dazzling light. Filled with divine life and light and love.

Peter and James and John saw Jesus the dying criminal. They also saw the transfigured Son of God. His resurrection tells us that the glorious vision was the deeper and truer one. What do we see of ourselves and each other? Can we see the deeper and truer radiant reality in each other? Can we see the deeper and truer radiant reality in ourselves?

Amen.