There is a wonderful folk saying that captures at least half of the meaning of the Transfiguration story we just heard: “There is more to him/her than meets the eye.” In a few days, on Ash Wednesday, the words of our liturgy will remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It is a message that proclaims we are creaturely, material, physical, and mortal. But today, through the story of the Transfiguration, we are reminded that we are something else… something more than dust, something spiritual, something mysterious, something like the One who is eternal. There is more to us than meets the eye.
Through the Incarnation, God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth became dust. The Infinite became finite. The Imperishable became mortal. The Holy One who is all in all became confined to a specific place and moment in time. During the season of Epiphany we have traced how God in Christ has been revealed to the world through the dust that we know as Jesus of Nazareth. We have marveled at his teaching. We have pondered his authority. We have praised him for the ability to heal and to forgive. We have observed how the light of Christ has been made known to the world. All of these things give hints that there is more to the dust of Jesus than meets the eye.
Today, at the Transfiguration, what is more than dust comes shining through. Along with the Disciples we are given the briefest glimpse of the Divinity that somehow has been contained in the dust. We sense the glorious nature of God that has been incarnate in the person of Jesus. We are overcome by a sense of awe at the Holy Mystery, a reality that is beyond our comprehension. We are reminded that Jesus of Nazareth is more than a spiritual teacher, more than a wise sage, and more than a worker of wonders. Jesus is God in flesh and we owe to him allegiance, praise, obedience, and love.
While the Transfiguration tells us that there is more to Jesus than meets the eye, it also tells us that there is more to each one as well. You see while we are dust, we are also something more. In the Genesis story of creation we are told that God took dust and breathed on it to form the first humans. We are dust, but we are also that breath – the breath of God which animates dust in ways that a rock, for example, is not. We are spiritual, non-physical, free, and beyond mortal. There is a Godly life-force within us that takes the dust and makes it something special and something unique. When we affirm that there is more to each one of us than meets the eye, we are affirming that we can see something of God in every person we meet because God’s breath moves in and through each one of us.
If the phrase “more than meets the eye” captures half of the meaning of the Transfiguration story, then perhaps the other half is captured by the saying “That was his/her shining moment.” For Jesus, it literally was a shining moment. His very appearance became bright – radiant beyond comprehension.
When we say of a person that it was his/her shining moment we are saying that the person allowed his/her Godly breath to show through the dust. It may be a moment of generosity or compassion or selflessness or achievement or beauty. The shining moment may be the briefest glimpse of Godly breath or it may be sustained over a long period of time. Whatever the duration or intensity, these shining moments are the times when we know that there is more to us than meets the eye. They are the times when we know exactly what we are made for and we touch the highest level of our potential.
The irony for me at least, as I struggled to write this sermon, I am immersed in doing laundry and delaying cleaning the kitchen and putting off paying the bills. So high theology meets reality and it is a challenge to shine when you are consumed with dusty details. I remember years ago when my daughters were young and my dog was a puppy and I was trying to write a sermon. One daughter did not watch the puppy when she was supposed to. The puppy did what puppies do and did it in the house. The other daughter stepped in the puppy’s ‘business’ and proceeded to track it all over the house. At that time, all I could see in those around me is what meets the eye. Nothing more. You can imagine how that Sunday’s sermon on the good news of the Gospel was more about a theory than an actual personal experience. It was not one of my shining moments. This thing about being dust is dirty business.
No wonder Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to deal with in life were the shining moments when we can see clearly in one another the something more! But that isn’t life, is it. The shining moments are the exception, not the rule. And yet just because we don’t see the best in one another all the time does not mean it is not there. It does not mean that all we are is down and dirty dust. It simply means that sometimes what is supposed to shine through is hidden, like a lamp put under a basket.
Those of you who gathered here on January 6th will remember that we began the season of Epiphany literally in darkness. From a single flame the Light of Christ spread from one candle to another bathing this darkened worship space in a wonderful, warm, flickering glow. One of our prayers that night was this:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives…
For Jesus, the shining moment of the Transfiguration is meant to prepare him for the dark and difficult road to Jerusalem and Crucifixion. The experience on the mountain so consumes him that the more than meets the eye about him never gets snuffed out. And now, as the prayer suggests, the Light that endured the Cross and rose victorious on Easter Day is now enkindled in our hearts. And we pray that it may shine forth in our lives… shine when all we want to see is what meets the eye, shine when it is not particularly a shining moment, shine like a lamp put on a table so that it gives light for all to see.