Shine On

Bible Text: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

On the rocky shores, on an isolated island, off the west coast of Vancouver Island one is often not surprised to find one stand alone sign of human habitation. I think there are about a dozen lighthouses just along the western sea shore alone, and that is just the lighthouses, there are hundreds of beacons, buoys and towers, not to mention all the ones that dot the Georgia Straight and North Coast of BC. There is something historic about lighthouses, they conjure up a time before GPS and other technology. There is something enticing, they are a symbol of travel and adventure. There is something mysterious, only a few feel called to care for these isolated lights. The lighthouses on the West Coast of Vancouver Island also have incredible stories. Fisgard Lighthouse, now a historical site, but still operational, was the first lighthouse on Canada’s west coast. Estevan lighthouse was attacked, during World War II, the only manned attack on Canadian soil. Cape Scott lighthouse, despite it’s remoteness, is one of the last lighthouses not to be automated. My personal favourite is the lighthouse on Nootka island, which is also staffed. It is known best as Friendly Cove but also as Yuquot by the Mowachaht people. When James Cook approached the island the Natives were yelling “Nutka-sitl! Nutka-sitl” which he misunderstood as the place name but really meant “Go around! Go around!” They were trying to redirect him to the crescent bay which later provided safe harbour for many a mariner. Not only do lighthouses represent this human presence in otherwise desolate places but they are beacons, lights to a lost or wandering traveller. In fact, the more we change to automated lighthouses the more we loose that first point of contact for a ship in trouble. Many a lighthouse keeper has stories of going out in a storm to rescue a listing boat. It is no wonder that often a symbol for faith is a lighthouse, a beam of light traversing a dense fog. A glimpse of hope in an otherwise wild world. A flash of light in a moment of darkness.
I imagine that as Jesus stood on that mountaintop with Peter, James and John, it was just like standing in front of a lighthouse beam. A moment of brilliant bright light despite previous words of darkness. Right before the transfiguration Jesus foretells of his death. Peter begins to rebuke him but Jesus calls out, “Get behind me, Satan!” I imagine it would have been a dark moment in their time together. Peter is simply caring and fearing for his friend and the friend yells at him and calls him names. The disciples hit one of their low points right before this mountaintop experience. Right before light illuminated the hope found in Christ.
Jesus invites Peter, James and John to accompany him up the mountain, to be apart, to be by themselves. When they get to the top, Jesus is transfigured, that is , his appearance is altered. In this moment of change Elijah and Moses appear on the scene. All of a sudden as the light begins to blind the disciples, a cloud overshadows everything and a voice says “this is my son, listen to him!” When the disciples pull themselves together its only Jesus who is standing with them.
The transfiguration of Jesus is a strange story in the Bible. It is a very different kind of epiphany. In Mark’s gospel epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism where a voice comes from heaven and says, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased”. There is no physical change to Jesus but there certainly is a change to Jesus’ purpose. Often epiphanies are like that, the change is subtle, no one notices right away. But the transfiguration is a very different kind of revealing, a different kind of epiphany. Jesus becomes a beacon- is changed, even just for a moment, in a very physical way. Jesus’ purpose is changed as well. What transfiguration says is that Jesus is someone who will be noticed. That his ministry will not be conspicuous. What he will disclose and preach, provide and restore is, not necessarily the purpose of life but rather, his purpose- who he truly is.
There is significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah that also reveals who Jesus is. They are the two greatest prophets within the Hebrew tradition. They had a very special, even intimate, relationship with God. Moses practically had face to face chats with God, he even had an opportunity to see God, even if it was as God walked away. Elijah was called into the prophetic tradition not by a voice but rather by the sound of silence. The Jewish tradition believes that these two prophets were so closely linked to God that they avoided death, both going directly to heaven, as reflected in our passage from in 2 Kings. There are similarities between these prophets and Jesus. They all worked to help the people of God remain faithful despite the fact that the people were being drawn into idolatrous behaviour. All of them laboured to keep the people of God hopeful even as the people suffered under oppression and totalitarian leadership. This is good company for Jesus to be in. Of course what differentiates the prophets from Jesus is that the voice of God announced to all who were present, be it at the side of the Jordan river or to the three disciples on the mountain that Jesus was God’s son.
The season of epiphany comes to an end today but just as it started it includes words of affirmation by God. In one translation God says in both instances, “This is my beloved son in whom I take delight.” Mary Gordon, and American author, wrote a book called, Reading Jesus, in which she uses her literary training to read the Gospels, says, that at transfiguration, “we are in the presence of delight. Delight as an aspect of the holy.” It is as if God is smiling down at Jesus. We have all seen little Michael smile- it brings us delight. And of course, there is also a sense of delight when we love. Transfiguration Sunday is about light but also delight and love.
As the bright light of Jesus shines like a beacon it also affirms the love God has for us. The transfiguration of Jesus is not the end of God’s transfiguring ways, it continues through Jesus to us. This is important because we are about to head straight into the tumultuous waters of lent. As Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness so too do we head off into the wild. We will need to be reminded of that love, and see that light, even if it is coming from a beacon far off in the distance. That light shines ahead into Lent to keep this on coming season in perspective. We are not without hope. Through baptism and our relationship with God, we are changed and charged with the instruction, listen to him! Listen to Jesus. The light of Christ speaks of a promise that God is here in our love, providing us with delight and showing us who Jesus truly is. God seeks relationship and delights in it because God is love. Amen