Luke 9:28-36 tells this wild story traditionally called the Transfiguration. In it, Jesus takes three of his follower up on a mountain to pray. While praying Jesus’ face changed and his clothes became radiant. Then Moses and Elijah, two dead men, show up and start talking with him about his pending crucifixion in Jerusalem. The whole thing feels a bit outlandish, so what should we make of this story?
The Transfiguration Then
If you follow the Church calendar at all, the Transfiguration, which also appears in Matthew and Mark, shows up every year right before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. For years, it terrified me and set the stage for a somber and repentance-laden Lenten season that focused on my sinfulness.
In those days, when explaining the Transfiguration, I essentially used a Clark Kent and Superman analogy. Jesus, who typically shows up like the affable Kent, rips off his suit to reveal his true identity. But instead of Superman, he is God. But not just any God, the same God who was repeatedly ready to destroy Israel after the Exodus, only to have Moses intervene. This same God sent Elijah to the vile King Ahab to announce a multi-year drought across the land. No wonder this God terrified me into a Lenten season filled with emotional self-flagellation.
The Transfiguration Now
Today, I see the whole thing differently because, unlike years past, I believe that Jesus and the God he calls Father are one. They have the same heart, mission, and purpose in the world. They hold the same desire for humanity and we see that come to life in the human Jesus. God is not offended so there is no need for Jesus to die for humanity’s sin. Instead, God is out to let people, especially those crippled by shame, that divine love is relentless and we are beloved.
This means that if you practice Lent in the coming weeks, there’s no need to give up something you value as an act of penance. Instead, I would encourage you to take up a practice that reminds you of your belovedness.