Mark 9:2-9 The Transﬁguration
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, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on
earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses,
who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ʻRabbi, it is good for
us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and
one for Elijah.ʼ He did not know what to say, for they were terriﬁed. Then a
cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ʻThis is
my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!ʼ Suddenly when they looked around,
they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
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
In her book Emily of the New Moon, L. M. Montgomery writes:
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside -- but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind ﬂuttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond -- only a glimpse -- and heard a note of unearthly music.... And always when the ﬂash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.
I have a question for us to ponder this morning: “Where have you
experienced the divine mystery in your personal - or, in our communal life
together?” To put it another way: think about an experience you’ve had, of
whatever sort, that brought you somehow into the presence of God - when
that thin curtain was parted momentarily and you glimpsed something
beautiful, enchanting, sacred, beyond. Does this trigger any memories?
Kimberly Conway Ireton, in an article entitled “Waking to Mystery,” writes of
one such experience. She was suffering from postpartum depression, living
with a constant sense of fear, anxiety and sadness.
In the midst of that time, which I mostly remember as if it were shrouded in thick, dark clouds, I can recall one moment when those clouds parted and I was able to see a reality beyond the one in which I was trapped. It happened, of all places, in the kitchen. I was washing a bunch of Swiss chard in the sink
when suddenly I became aware of how beautiful it was -- the crinkly dark green leaves with their bright red veins, the thick yet silky texture of the leaf as I gently pulled apart each fold to wash inside it, the way the leaves glistened in the sunlight slanting through the kitchen window as I lifted each washed
leaf out of the water and placed it on the towel beside the sink. Time seemed to stop -- or at least cease to matter -- as I wondered at the beauty of the chard.
The veil had lifted momentarily and she was ﬁlled with a sense of awe and
timelessness and holiness. It was a moment of grace. It happened among
the countless commonplace routines of everyday living.
The veil had lifted and the everyday world was transﬁgured. She glimpsed
the beauty and mystery at the heart of all that is, seeing an ordinary piece
of chard that she had washed many times before, as it really is, not as it
The veil had lifted and she was transﬁgured - momentarily. God ministered
to her in her dark hour. Her depression wasnʼt instantaneously lifted for all
time, but in this revelation of beauty, this moment of mystery gave her hope
-- that there is more to life than usually meets the eye. This mystery is at
the very heart of our faith.
The word “heart” appears in the Bible over 1,000 times. Unlike the meaning associated with Valentines and romantic love, “heart” in the Biblical sense has a much more comprehensive meaning. It is a metaphor for the inner self as a whole, at itʼs deepest spiritual level. It reﬂects on our human condition: are our hearts “open” - turned towards God? -- or “closed” - turned away from God?
How do our hearts become open? The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God
does it. Did Kimberly consciously decide to open her heart to God while
washing the chard? Far from it. God came to her. Celtic Christianity, which
originated on the British isles, would tell you that the Spirit of God operates through “thin places.”
Thomas Merton, a twentieth-century Trappist monk expresses it this
way. I’ve printed it on the cover of your bulletins. Let’s read it together:
Life is simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely trans parent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget about ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything - in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes
very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. Itʼs impossible. The only thing is that we donʼt see it.
But then there are those times when we do. A minister friend described to me a time when he was in college in the 60ʼs living the life of drink,
drugs and rock and roll. His life to that point had been pretty rough. He
decided to try transcendental meditation. The ﬁrst time he sat down to
meditate, the world as he knew it, just dissolved and he was brought into a
perfect state of peace and harmony, probably for the ﬁrst time in his life. He
knew then and there that there was something beyond what he knew in his
daily life. It took many more years for him to give up his life style, but this
experience had an enormous impact.
Itʼs in those thin places that the two levels of reality intersect. The
boundaries between them become very soft, porous, permeable. It is where
that thin veil momentarily parts, our hearts are opened, and we behold
Where do we ﬁnd those thin places? Kimberly Ireton will tell you “it is in the
everyday, the commonplace that mystery most often unfolds.” For many of
us, it happens in nature. For others, in meditation.
Thin places also happen, not only in times of joy, but in times of illness,
suffering and grief. I will never forget listening from the doorway of a dying
manʼs hospital room, to the rosary being prayed in Spanish by 20 of his
relatives, gathered around his bed, as he laid there bathed in tears. Those times can be the most sacred.
The central purpose of our spiritual practices, both personal and
communal, is to become a thin place where our hearts are opened. This is
one of the primary purposes of worship. Here we are attempting to create a
sense of the sacred. We cannot force or manufacture an experience of the
divine. It often comes when we least expect it. But through music, ritual, the
sacraments, prayers, sermons, scripture, we create experiences that draw
us out of ourselves and redirect us towards God.
It doesnʼt happen for everyone, every time. But I see glimpses of it when I
watch one of you in the pews singing a hymn with a huge smile on your
face, or greeting a newly baptized member with a rose petal and a hug -
when I watch the tears ﬂow after one of us has shared a personal and
In the scripture reading this morning, a thin place was found on a mountain
top where a dramatic worship experience is related. In the Biblical tradition,
from Moses on, mountaintops were those places that you climb to get
closer to God. Then the proverbial question arises: Did this really happen?
John Shelby Spong would tell you that this gospel is less biography
or history and more a misrashic retelling of the Jesus story based on the
Hebrew scriptures and organized around the liturgical year of the Jews.
He sees this story of the Transﬁguration as a retelling of the story
associated with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. After the fall of the
Temple in 70 CE, when this gospel was written (remember that the Temple
was where the Jews believed God resided), Christians portrayed Jesus as
the new temple, his body embraced by the heavenly light. In their tradition
Godʼs holy light had always connected the people of Israel to Godʼs
This story is ﬁlled with Jewish images of the past:
Moses went up the sacred mountain with three disciples - entered a cloud
of God - and returned with the skin of his face radiantly shinning. In some
circles Moses was believed not to have died at all. God took him directly
into the divine presence.
Elijah departed from this world in a ﬁery chariot drawn by ﬁery horses
coming out of heaven to take him directly into Godʼs presence.
And here we have Jesus up on that mountain, conversing with these two
representatives of the law and the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His
clothes a dazzling white. The torch is being passed. God speaks through
the cloud, “Listen to him.” This sounds like a dramatic retelling of some
earlier stories to me.
Jesus was one of those thin places. Thatʼs how he was perceived by his
And here we have a story that expresses their experience - their devotion.
On this magical mountain of transﬁguration, the veil between the past and
present and future, the curtain separating the human from the divine, was
lifted and for a shining instant, the disciples were given a dazzling vision of
who Jesus was - who he really was. It doesnʼt really matter if it happened in
just this way. What matters is that it happened.
Peter wanted to hold on to that moment, bottle it up and keep it. But we
canʼt do that. Weʼre only given glimpses, and then itʼs back down the
mountain to our daily grind. But, as Kimberly found out, those moments can
make a difference.
Kathryn Spink, from the Taize community calls the Transﬁguration:
“a celebration of that presence of Christ which takes charge of
everything in us and transﬁgures even that which disturbs us about
ourselves. God penetrates those hardened, incredulous, even
disquieting regions within us, about which we really do not know what
to do. God penetrates them with the life of the Spirit and acts upon
those regions and gives them Godʼs own face.”
The minister I was talking to, in that dark time of his life, describes seeing
Godʼs face during his meditation. It wasnʼt a physical face, but a presence,
that brought him peace and joy and ﬁlled him with love. Ah, that we could
each experience such a transﬁguration.