Change: make or become different; make or become a different substance entirely; transform.
We talk about change. We know we need change. We want change. We resist change. We don’t want change. We hate change. We’re afraid of change. We don’t change.
Change is difficult, elusive, and essential. Real change comes from a transformative encounter.
This week’s story from the gospel of Matthew is all about the encounter. For some reason, us Western believers have exchanged an encounter with Jesus to expositing about Jesus. Big mistake. But it does explain why so many fail to experience change – the true transformative experience – that only comes from an encounter with Jesus.
Here’s our story. It’s out of linear sequence from where we left off with Matthew, but it brackets the season of Epiphany. Epiphany follows Christmas and takes us right up to Ash Wednesday, which launches us into Lent. Lent leads to Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We live our lives in seasons. The liturgical year is but another seasonal experience.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” ~ Matthew 17:1-9
This is one of those passages that defies interpretation. We’re given a peek into the mystical encounter between God and God’s Beloved. We’re also observing those who at the center of the story – Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – and those who are watching – Peter, James, and John. Then there are all of us watching all of them and trying to figure out what it all means.
What if the point wasn’t trying to figure out what it means but to encounter it? I think the Bible starts to make a whole lot more sense when we look at it less as a book of certainties and absolutes and more as a book of encounters. The Bible is really more about a long parade of people who run into God, each other, life … and are never the same again. What don’t people run into in the Bible? It’s all there. Crazy relatives, armed enemies, depression, life-saving strangers, children, food, friendships, and love.
Biblical encounters come disguised in many forms. What we see is how the encounter breaks open biblical people where they see God’s movement in their ordinary lives. Traveling from one place to another. Changing their perception or perspective on something or someone. Experiencing something familiar in a new way.
These encounters dissolve certainty, more often than not. The encounters are also a catalyst for change. That’s what’s important about this passage. Everyone enveloped in the cloud, changed. They may not have seen the change immediately, or been aware of the invisible shift taking place in their hearts and minds, but the encounter planted the seeds for which change would come. Not just a little change, but a complete transformation.
When I feel like I’m in the cloud and can barely see my hand in front of my face, I’ve learned that it’s an opportunity for an Encounter and change is a probability. I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in the cloud, but that God’ Beloved is standing with me. It’s a time to listen to those words of guidance and comfort, ““Get up and do not be afraid.” Things might get scary before the become holy, but that’s the whole point of the meeting, the cloud, and the change.