Have you ever awakened from a dream only to wonder where you are, or what’s going on? Maybe you’re in a strange place and you need a minute to re-orient yourself. Your dream was a beautiful, peaceful dream where you were in a totally different world—far removed from your real life existence. You wake up only to find that life is still the same. It is kind of a shock to wake from a fantasy existence into the reality that you’re going to have to get up and face the world again.
For the first moment or two after you wake up, you carry your dream world into the real world. You look around, trying to sort out dream from reality. Then, if you’re like me, if there is time you lay down again and try to get back into that same dream! It’s nice to escape reality now and then, but sometimes we don’t want those beautiful dreams to end!
Luke records that the disciples were “weighed down with sleep” following their trek up the mountain to pray with Jesus. One of my scariest car rides was going up and down Mount Tabor—the mountain referred to here. I rode with 3 other pastors in a taxi with a driver who was obviously experienced, but might have been getting paid by the trip because he was trying to go faster that we thought humanly possible. An older pastor commented that his faith was growing by leaps and bounds on this ride! He, too, thought he would be seeing Moses, Elijah and Jesus shortly! Once the disciples made the walk up this steep, high mountain set apart by itself, they would have been exhausted. Maybe they even started to doze off.
They must have thought they were dreaming when, suddenly before them, Jesus was altered to a dazzling white. He was apparently visiting with two figures who were obviously of a celestial nature! Could it be that Moses and Elijah were with them on this mountain!?? Were their eyes playing tricks on them? Were they dreaming? What was going on?
But then, all-too-soon, they began to vanish. Peter quickly spoke up and volunteered to build a booth for each of them so that they would have someplace to stay. Peter desperately wanted to preserve this glorious vision, dream, or whatever it was that was happening! No one in their right minds would have wanted this heavenly revelation to end.
Suddenly, before they had time to do anything, a cloud enveloped them, and they became terrified. A voice spoke from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” They had seen Moses and Elijah talking with their friend and teacher. They had seen a vision of this friend in a glorified state speaking with these two great men of faith. Then suddenly it was all over, and they were alone again with Jesus. Their friend—the Son of God???! What a dream!— Or was it a dream? What was dream and what was reality?
One would imagine that the disciples had quite a bit to think about as they walked down that mountain with Jesus. What had they just witnessed? What did it all mean for them and for Jesus?
The disciples were about to come fact-to-face with reality and Jesus’ true mission during the next few weeks. Though they really did not understand it, this event was most likely meant to be an inspiration for them in times of bewilderment and suffering. The Transfiguration of Jesus is a prelude to the greatest miracle of all time—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In this marvelous reality-altering event, the disciples (and those who read this story) are given a glimpse of the glory that awaited Jesus after the suffering and humiliation of the cross. It was a look-ahead in time intended to bolster faint, weary spirits with the glory that will belong to Jesus. Here Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets as they bear witness to Jesus and to His identity. This event is the culmination of the Epiphany season of the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son, and what a spectacular culmination it is! Could there be any doubt as to Jesus’ identity after witnessing this event?
Of course, the glorious vision didn’t last. Peter’s attempts to preserve it were cut off by the voice of God demanding they listen to Jesus. At the beginning and end of the Epiphany Season, God speaks claiming Jesus as His Beloved Son and demanding that we listen to Jesus. The disciples had to deal with reality following the Transfiguration even though they wanted this vision to continue. They came down the mountain and were thrust back into the reality of life—a reality that was leading Jesus closer and closer to Jerusalem with the suffering and death that awaited Him there.
As we worship here today, we are reminded that we too are sent out into the world to face the realities of life. We cannot escape the realities of our lives no matter what they might be—good or bad. With all the things going on in the world, we need this vision as well as the disciples. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is yet another example of the sin and evil in the world. We are struggling with the lingering aspects of the pandemic, the rise in inflation is hitting us all, violence and murder in our cities and rural areas, all threaten the peace and stability of the future. We cannot remain apart from the world. We are sent out to be the revelation of Jesus to our families, our co-workers, our fellow students, our friends, and even total strangers.
Reality hit the disciples like a blast of that cold, arctic wind we’ve been feeling. It hits us that way too: the doctor’s report isn’t as good as we would have liked and we need surgery; or we don’t feel quite right, but are afraid to go in for a checkup; or maybe we’re experiencing some personal or family problems that are weighing heavy on our minds. When we catch the news we hear about the ugly realities of life and the problems we face nationally and globally.
The world we re-enter today will not be rosy or perfect. We will have to face our fears, problems, or challenges head-on and deal with them. We also must come to grips with our own sinfulness and our need for repentance as we look to Christ for forgiveness. We enter the season of Lent this coming Wednesday, which causes us to focus on our broken relationship with God and our need for a Savior. We ponder the meaning of the cross in our lives as we are reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus for us.
But as we deal with all those things, let’s also remember the point and focus of this Transfiguration event. We are given a look ahead to see that amidst the challenges of life we do not go it alone. Christ, who took the cross for us, continues to walk with us, strengthening, listening, and guiding us. Ahead of us waits the glory of the Resurrection and the knowledge that Christ who died is the same Christ who lives and gives us that same life. There IS HOPE for us, and no matter what we are facing today, we have before us a vision of a better life and someone who will go down that long lonely road with us, bringing us through to a better day with a brighter future. And when things are going well for us, we can stop a minute and give thanks for the good things we are experiencing and the joy of life that we are feeling. We can even be reminded that our strength can be needed and useful to those who are struggling now, so we can share our love and care with others.
The vision is before us. We go out into the world to meet its challenges knowing we are not alone, and that Christ, the Son of God, will not fail us. He will see us through all things to the time when we find ourselves seated at His great banquet table in the Presence of God forevermore.