1 And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Mark 9:1-9 (NRSV)
Sermon by Pastor Joshua Demi
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Today is both a celebration of this mysterious and wondrous moment in the life of Jesus, and the beginning of a journey. There are two major cycles in the church calendar. The first is the cycle of the Advent and Christmas seasons, as well as the baptism of The LORD, which is after the Christmas season ends, but which looks back on the themes of Advent and Christmas. That season is most fundamentally about who Jesus is: The Incarnate Lord of Creation, the Son of God, the Savior of the World. Then there is Transfiguration Sunday, and the Lent and Easter Seasons. Liturgically, Easter is not a single day but a season which goes all the way to Pentecost. We fast for about forty days, and then we celebrate for about forty days. Transfiguration Sunday isn’t part of Lent, but it looks ahead to the themes of Lent and Easter, which are most fundamentally about what Christ has accomplished and what it means.
This story comes right after a passage where Jesus prophecies His death , resurrection and return. At the end of the prophecy, Jesus says something really, really, interesting. Mark 9:1 (NRSV) says this:
And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’”
Then, six days later Jesus journeys up a high mountain with some of his disciples. There he is transfigured, transformed. And suddenly Moses and Elijah – figures who intimately associated with the law and the prophets, which Jesus himself has said that he came to fulfill – appear alongside him. Then a cloud, which is so often associated with the presence of God in the Old Testament, envelopes them and a voice bursts forth from the cloud saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7b NRSV)
In this passage, this mysterious and wondrous moment, Jesus’ odd prophecy that some standing there will live to see the kingdom of God come in power, is fulfilled. And it’s not the only time that that prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament. The glory of the kingdom of God and the mystery that the kingdom of God has come are glimpsed throughout The New Testament, in moments that we will commemorate throughout the Lenten and Easter seasons. In the resurrection, the ascension, Pentecost, in Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and his crucifixion – yes even his crucifixion, which, although sad, although heartbreaking, was a moment of glory – in all of these we see the kingdom of God revealed in power and glory.
The Kingdom of God is now, not yet, already: now, not yet, already. As is often the case when trying to understand God, how this all fits together is a mystery. God is the Ultimate, the Infinite. When we come before God we are like children wading out into the ocean. There is much that they know; they know that the water is cool and salty; they know that there are sea shells in the sand, and all manner of fish out in the deep. Yet there is so much more that they do not know, and could not explain even if they did. The Kingdom of God, mysteriously and wondrously, is now, not yet, already. I can’t explain it, and I don’t that human beings are capable of fully explaining it. We can see and explain aspects of it. We can see and explain aspects of how the kingdom of God is, how it was, how it will be. For example, one of the ways that the kingdom of God is now, how it is manifest today, is through the forgiveness, redemption, and healing, offered in Christ. That’s what Ash Wednesday, which we will celebrate in a few days, is ultimately about: it’s a service of spiritual healing. God is active in our world now; God overcame sin and death in the person of Jesus Christ; and one day will come again to make all things new. The kingdom of God is now, not yet, already.
The Christian life is a journey into mystery. A personal relationship with God is a relationship with the Infinite, the wild Lord of all whose glory Peter, James, and John glimpsed on that mountaintop. Lent, this unique time of fasting and prayer, is an invitation to journey deeper into that mystery, to embrace the glory and wonder of God, who calls you by name to know and be known, love and be loved. Whatever this season may look like for you, may you journey deeper. May you walk boldly into waves, and swim in the sea. May you embrace the mystery.