“And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking to Jesus.” (Mark 9:4)
During my first winter in Baton Rouge, the week before Transfiguration Sunday we used a marquee sign that said: “Jesus transfigured before Star Wars made it cool.” Among the many reasons I did this, the image at the end of “A New Hope,” Episode 8 of the Star Wars franchise, has one of the closest depiction we can find in our world to the concept of transfiguration. Those who have been essential to the development of the characters appear in their “force” forms to a key person to offer both comfort and support for the journey ahead.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration does have several similarities. Once again, we see three figures in a new and transformed form. They are the people who have been essential to the development of the faith – Moses and Elijah, and now Jesus. They appear bathed in light. However, that is where the resemblance ends.
Unlike Star Wars, Jesus is transfigured not for the comfort of the disciples and not really for support either. He is shown as he truly is, with those who have gone before him, in order that he and the disciples might be prepared for the journey ahead. As is often the case, the disciples don’t get it. And Jesus himself is unsure what to say for “they were terrified.”
This reaction is probably a healthy one, not only because the vision must have been overwhelming, but more importantly because what is coming is not an easy road. From here we see Jesus fix his sights upon Jerusalem and begin his final journey. That trek will lead to Golgotha and a cold tomb. Even with the hope of the resurrection, the path in front of them is fraught with danger, difficulty, and distress.
Jesus is more aware of what is coming, so he can deal with the unfortunate preparation for longer. On the flip side, the disciples will not allow their minds to open to the possibility of such pain and problems – so when the final day arrives, they greet it with shock.
In essence, both are methods of coping with death. Sometimes we are blessed with enough time to say goodbye as well as we can, though it never feels like there is an adequate span. Other times, loss comes when we least expect it and we are left to deal with the unfortunate fallout.
This is also true about other life circumstances that challenge us. There are times when we can prepare for the trial ahead and others when we must simply face it.
Though we have not experienced Jesus’ own suffering, we each have our own story. There are highs and lows, great triumphs and great defeats, great joys and great sorrows. We cannot fully know what the future will bring, but we do know it will include more of the same.
Our role is to learn how to prepare ourselves for whatever may be coming: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be a mighty struggle to have faith in all circumstances. However, the greatest way to bolster our relationship with God is to build relationships with others. Their faith can carry us through, even when we lose our sight of God.
The key piece that we can learn from the transfiguration account is to listen. Jesus is trying to strengthen his own relationships to get through the rough road ahead, but they are so caught up in their own thoughts and plans that they miss their opportunity. I encourage you to not be like the disciples in this instance.
Instead, listen when someone comes to you. And find others who will listen, really open their ears and hearts, to you. Be honest and authentic, and do not shy away from hard truths. Then you will be as ready as you can be, whatever may come.