When my five-year-old granddaughter and I are going somewhere in the car, we often listen to music that she likes. Not too long ago, we got the soundtrack to Aladdin from the library. My car is not exactly a magic carpet ride, but the music does take us into another world, a magical world in which what’s expected gets turned upside down and the impossible becomes reality.
In the movie, Jasmine, a princess with all she could ever want and more than she could ever need who is imprisoned in the restrictive world of royal expectations meets Aladdin, a street urchin who never has enough and is constantly in trouble with the law.
The two go on a magic carpet ride high above the world that holds them both captive. We probably all know the hit song from this show, “A Whole New World.”
As I was listening to this song yet again, the thought burst into my mind that in many ways, the lyrics have some similarities to what is going in today’s scripture, when Peter, John, and James go up on the mountain with Jesus to pray. High above the world that they know, they open their hearts to God. Although they are weighed down with sleep, they are awake enough to be aware of what is happening.
The disciples see before them a whole new world in which the past, the present and the future merge together radiantly. Jesus, with shining face and dazzling white clothes, is talking to Moses and Elijah about his departure from this earth, which will take place in Jerusalem.
Indeed, this moment for the disciples, in the words of the hit song, must be “shining, shimmering, splendid…..mystical, over, sideways and under, a dazzling place they’ve never known.” This “unbelievable sight” is “crystal clear” and the disciples might well feel that they are “soaring, tumbling, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky.” There they are in the presence of the Son of God, Moses, and Elijah.
And then a cloud comes and overshadows them.
This statement gives me chills.
The disciples are overshadowed.
Luke uses this same word, “overshadowed,” at the beginning of his gospel, in the first chapter, to describe what happens to Mary when she conceives the Son of God.
The angel Gabriel tells Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.
And now the disciples are being overshadowed. The Son of God will also be born in them! A voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” From now on, only one voice should matter to them, the voice of Jesus.
No wonder they are terrified. No wonder they don’t tell anyone of the things they have seen when they come down from the mountain.
For how could they?
The silence of the disciples is much like the early silence of a newly pregnant woman, the secret of new life growing inside of her, a new state of being that she must come to terms with before she is ready to share her news with the world.
So the disciples go in silence back to a world full of injustice, violence, disease, discrimination, and hunger. They go back to a world in which they know Jesus is not welcome, a world that will bring him suffering, a world in which he will be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, a world that will kill him.
And Jesus has told them that they must take up their crosses if they wish to follow him, that they too must lose their lives to save them.
Jesus told the disciples these things just days before they went up the mountain. The disciples must have been terrified when they heard Jesus talk about what would happen to him, the terror that can grip you in the gut, send your mind racing out of control, a sense of impending horror that you’d do anything to avoid.
But they choose to keep following, and so Jesus takes them up the mountain. There, they realize that the world as they know it is not all there is. Into the madness, the violence, the injustice, comes light, new life, birth.
Jesus, the Chosen One, has chosen them, the overshadowed, to bear God’s life-giving light out into the world, even at the cost of their lives.
We hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration at least once every year, on the last Sunday of Epiphany. Some years, we hear the story twice in one year, when the Feast of the Transfiguration falls on Sunday, August 6th, as it does this year.
This story tells us who Jesus is, and the story also points forward to the fact that God will raise Jesus up in glory in the resurrection. The Transfiguration reminds us that life on this earth is not all there is, and that death does not have the last word.
This story is also valuable because it tells us something about ourselves here and now. Like the disciples, we also live in a world that has gone mad, that is full of violence, sickness and death, where injustice seems to reign.
How easy it is to become discouraged, to remove ourselves from the awfulness, and to protect ourselves against having to deal with any of it. We get tempted to lay down our crosses and just try to get through one day, and then another and then another, using only our limited physical and mental resources, which we all know will fail us at some point.
So here are some things to help us to take up the crosses we never could have imagined we’d be given and continue to carry them, even when they seem impossibly heavy. Rather than laying them down, or even worse, carrying them with bitterness and resentment, we can take them up with strength and resolve, knowing that Jesus goes before us to show us the way.
The story of the transfiguration tells us about the importance of prayer. Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. As a result of his prayer, he was transfigured. As a result of their imperfect prayers on that mountain, the disciples themselves were overshadowed so that they too could give birth to something new.
And they received that crucial direction from God, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
When we listen to Jesus in prayer, we can continue to carry our crosses, whatever they may be, with new strength and resolve, knowing that when we listen for the voice of Jesus, God will guide us, and we can proceed with confidence, even when we cannot see the way ahead.
And when we listen to Jesus in prayer, we also know that this world is not all there is—because even in death, resurrection and new life await.
Resurrection is not only something that is off in the distance, available only after our physical deaths,
Resurrection is here and now as well. When we experience this imperfect world through the perfect light of God’s love, we experience the freedom of a whole new resurrected world.
God constantly provides us with transfiguring moments every day. The ways in which we relate to others can be transfiguring rather than death dealing when we are prayerful about our conversations and our relationships, and when we are intentional about bearing God’s light into the world.
When we prayerfully open our eyes to the beauty of the natural world, we may experience transfiguration, seeing signs of resurrection in the cycle of life going on all around us, if only we have eyes to see.
I can imagine Jesus saying these words, “I can open your eyes, take you wonder by wonder over, sideways and under” on a transforming journey through this life, if you will follow me.
And if we go with him, we will be in a “whole new world, a dazzling place we never knew.” When we’re with Jesus, “it’s crystal clear that now we’re in a whole new world” with him. “A whole new world, every turn a surprise, with new horizons to pursue, every moment, red letter, we can chase them anywhere.”
And the most amazing truth of all–We ourselves can be signs of resurrection and new life in this old world when we listen, let God lead us and let our hearts decide to follow Jesus through the heights and depths of this life into a whole new resurrected world.