Summit Presbyterian Church
February 10, 2013
Luke 9: 28-36
A Glimpse of Glory
The disciples had eight days to brood. Eight days to brood over those sayings of Jesus: the saying that predicted his great suffering and death. The saying that the disciples needed to deny themselves to follow him. The saying that those who want to save their life will lose it. The saying that Jesus would be ashamed of all those who were ashamed of him. Jesus also said he would be raised and come in glory - but the disciples couldn't have known what that would mean. On balance, with eight days and nights for their anxiety to mount, and being more familiar with shame than glory, those disciples probably weren't in the most cheerful state of mind when they climbed the mountain with Jesus.
Luke says they were weighed down with sleep. Perhaps they were simply tired, or they may have been frightened and depressed, wanting to escape through sleep. But they managed to fight it off, and when they were fully awake they saw Jesus praying. He was different. The appearance of his face had changed and his clothes were dazzling white; he was in glory. Then, suddenly, two men began speaking with him, but not just any two men . Moses and Elijah, those great prophets of Israel, also in glory. Two prophets who would have assured the disciples that Jesus was the messiah of God, that his coming did fulfill scripture. Luke says the prophets were speaking to Jesus about his departure -- his journey to Jerusalem and all that he was to suffer and accomplish there. We don't know what instructions or what tender words of reassurance they may have been giving him. But the disciples saw them. Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay there, for his offer to build three dwellings. Jesus may have wanted to stay too, to continue talking with Moses and Elijah. He couldn't talk with his disciples about all that was ahead of him. They couldn't understand.
But before anyone could build a dwelling, God overshadowed them with a cloud and the disciples were terrified again. God spoke from the cloud to say, "this is my son, my chosen one, listen to him," and then it was over. They came down the mountain. And once they were down in the valley they were back in the thick of it. Jesus predicted his suffering and death again. The disciples bickered among themselves. Jesus had stern words for them. The opposition to Jesus began to build. There were also joys and successes - healings and miracles - but it was a hard road to Jerusalem and it ended badly with the death of Jesus. Those were dark days right after the crucifixion. Perhaps the memory of this vision helped them to hang on, gave them hope that it wasn't over yet. This vision of Jesus transfigured.
Several times in the gospels Jesus warns his followers to "stay awake!" In Matthew and Mark, he tells the disciples to "stay awake" so they may be prepared for his coming again, for the salvation and judgement of God. When he tells them to stay awake there's an element of warning and danger. He tells a parable of the foolish bridesmaids who fall asleep and get shut out of the banquet. He tells another one about a householder who fails to stay awake is robbed in the night. Jesus also tells his disciples to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemene, while he waits to be arrested. But in this story , we - all of Jesus's disciples - are encouraged to stay awake for another reason. A reason that doesn't have to do with warning and danger. A reason we may find even more compelling. We're encouraged to stay awake so we don't miss a glimpse of the glory of God. So we don't miss a sign of hope, or reassurance or of the majesty of God. Signs that can sustain us at the bottom of the mountain where we live from day to day.
Such glimpses of Glory are just that -- fleeting. We may have trouble believing or trusting them later. But God provides them. They may happen on top of a mountain, or any place of beauty - as the psalmist says, the heavens tell of the glory of God. They may happen in prayer, or when we wake up anxious in the middle of the night, and sense God's presence or comfort. They may come in a moment shared with someone we love, or in worship. They may come when we see the face of Christ in a stranger, or in an act of love or justice. Those moments seem trite when we try to describe them, but it was not just those first disciples who could see the glory of Christ. God provides them to us, too.
But the trick is to keep awake, spiritually awake, especially when we're not in the best state of mind, when we're frightened or depressed. Prayer is the first way to do that -- but we don't have to be champion prayers, even attempts at prayer keep us awake. I find it reassuring that the disciples weren't praying when they saw Jesus glorified, they were watching him pray. We also keep spiritually awake by keeping our eyes and ears open to the beauty around us. By opening our hearts to family, and neighbors and strangers in need. By remembering to give thanks. By reading scripture, by caring for those we love and our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we enter Lent, just one new discipline -- coming to bread and broth, reading scripture with a devotional, saying grace at meals - can be a practice in wakefulness.
Keep awake, therefore! For we do not know the day, or the hour, when we may catch a glimpse of God's glory.