Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. Is this Scripture or a Clorox commercial? What is going on here? You have to admit, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is kind of weird.
But it is this scene, for as strange as it is, that sits right in the middle of Mark’s gospel, and it operates as a time machine. It offers a glimpse of the future that is to come.
Have you ever seen a movie or a television show that reveals the end of the story first? In an episode of the tv comedy Modern Family, the show opens with a frantic scene in an emergency room. Jay, the grandfather, rushes up to his son saying, “Do we know anything?” Mitchell, his son, tells him that there is no news just yet, but that they are lucky. The paramedics said it could have been a lot worse. Overwhelmed with fear and concern, Jay cries out, “My God, how did this even happen?!” And before we, the audience, know who was injured or what ocurred, the scene ends. Suddenly, the camera pans in on a house during beautiful sunny day and all it says across the screen is, “Six days earlier.” The end is revealed at the beginning and the rest of the episode is spent putting together the pieces of the past six days, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat, waiting to see how we will end up back in that emergency room, waiting to see how the past leads up to what we already know is in the future.
In this story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the disciples catch a glimpse into the future. Jesus leads Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain -the place where so many before have encountered the presence of God. Just when they reach the top, suddenly Jesus is lifted up. His face changes; his clothes – they begin to radiate light. Moses and Elijah, those great figures in God’s history, show up in the clouds. And then the voice of God breaks through like it did at Jesus’ baptism, proclaiming, “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.” This is a snapshot of the future, but it is not just any future. It is God’s future. It is a hoped for future in which the kingdom of God has come. Where everything is engulfed in the light of God. All suffering has been dissolved; every tear has been wiped away. Upon seeing this future, all Peter wants to do, of course, is stay there. Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, this is a good place to be. Let’s just stay here. We will put up some tents and we will make this our home.”
Which is how it is when you catch a glimpse of the future, isn’t it? You want to go there immediately, without taking the path of life that leads you there. When you are 14 years old, and you are sitting in the driver’s seat of the car parked in the driveway, you can almost see into the future, when it’s just you out on the highway with radio turned up. And don’t you want to stay there? Don’t you want that moment to come now, without all the classes and driver’s test you have to go through? Or when you’re a year away from graduation, and you see some of your friends heading off into life with a diploma in hand. You can almost see the day when that will be you, and don’t you just want to stay there? To stay in that glimpse of the future, without going through the homework and graduation requirements? Or maybe even when you or a loved one has received the hard news that death is not far off and it’s likely to be slow and painful. You know the future; you can see it. The time when death has come and pain has ended, and maybe there is a part of you that wishes to stay there, in that imagined future, without going through the painful process of dying?
But that, unfortunately, isn’t how life or stories work. You cannot simply see into the future and then just stay there, skipping the road that leads to it. The writers of Modern Family couldn’t have had the story stay in the emergency room, never telling us how it got there. And Peter, James, and John cannot remain on this mountain top with Jesus either. They must come down and live through their story which will bring them (and us) back to this future.
And the story will lead us back. Back to a mountain top. But, perhaps, not as we think and not as we want. For the story of Jesus and his disciples is about to take a turn, and it is headed straight into Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus heals those who are sick. He blesses the children. He will challenge the economic system where the rich get richer and the poor poorer. He’ll open the eyes of the blind. But finally, in Jerusalem, Jesus will come face to face with the powers of the day, those political tyrants who do not like it when their way of life is threatened by people like Jesus.
And then that glimpse into the future that we saw…it starts to come true. Jesus will climb a mountain. But this time carrying a wood and nails. Jesus will be lifted up. But this time on a cross. Jesus’ face will be transfigured. But this time by a crown of thorns, blood and bruises. And even Jesus’ clothes will change. But this time because they are torn off his body.
But we have already seen this future. And so we can look with different eyes at Jesus on a hilltop, lifted up and nailed to a cross. We know what this is. This isn’t the pitiful death of a poor peasant. No. Hidden within the suffering of Jesus on the cross is not just another example of human suffering; it is the suffering of God. And it is the glory of God. Of a God who so loves this world that it is worth dying for. Hidden in the suffering of Jesus on the cross is the light of God shining throughout the world. A dazzling white light, whiter than any bleach on earth could achieve. And that is a light in the midst of the greatest darkness.
Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. What is going on here? It is a glimpse into the future.
Today, we see the future. That one day, there will be light. A light so bright that no darkness can overcome it. A day when all suffering has dissolved; every tear has been wiped away. But that day is not here yet. And so we too must leave this place. Like Peter, we cannot stay here. We must come down the mountain and step into the suffering of the world, where the light seems hidden to so many. As one preacher once put it, “We know that the future belongs to the Prince of Peace, and so we work for peace in a war-torn age. We know that one day justice will roll down like waters, and we work for that justice, even though such labor is costly. We have seen the risen Christ, and we know that in him the image of God in humanity has been restored. Therefore, we work today for the poor, the outcast, and all others denied dignity in our age.” And we do all of this as a witness to the future that we have seen though it is not here yet. But take heart, for the kingdom of God is near. Thanks be to God. AMEN
 Tom Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes, p. 103