Summer movies are out, blockbusters with lots of special effects to draw the young and old alike - and to cash in on huge profits. In the light of such movies, our first reading today from the book of Daniel fits right in. It has a blazing throne, “wheels of burning fire,” “surging stream of fire” and a cast of “thousands and thousands,” with “myriads upon myriads” in attendance. There are visions to rivet one’s attention: one “like a Son of man” coming on clouds of heaven; the Ancient One whose “clothing was snow bright” and whose hair is “white as wool.” Don’t these images rival the current crop of summer blockbusters?
The Gospel keeps the spectacles flowing: we have a mysterious high mountain; Jesus’ transfiguration; the dazzling white clothes; the appearance from the dead of Elijah and Moses; the cloud and then that really big voice from the cloud. All the making of engrossing spectacle and in mid-summer, all to shake awake our attention, lest we be lulled by the aroma of barbecue and the sound of the ocean as it beats to shore. Like Peter on the mountain, the presence of a really good thing would make any one of us want to hold on to what we have within our grasp. It’s easy not look beyond the moment, no further than our own fingertips; to stay comfortably where we are. “How good it is to be here.” There is a lot in our world to keep us self-focused and nearsighted.
In the Gospel, suffering and sacrifice are essential elements of discipleship. Just before they go up to the mountain, Jesus predicted his future suffering and death - and when Peter objected to this kind of talk, Jesus reprimanded him and called him by the Tempter’s name - Satan. Jesus goes on to tell them, “If you wish to come after me, you must first deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my steps.” And his steps are soon to take him into Jerusalem where he will face his cross. As they come down the mountain they will be met by a large crowd and the father of a boy “possessed by a mute spirit.” The difficult task of ministry awaits the disciples. No wonder they want to stay where life is cushy, comfortable and sure. Until the resurrection, the road Jesus will take his disciples will be all downhill - going from bad to worse.
We all experience moments of transfiguration. Our first love and the early days of being in love; graduation and wedding days; the time we hold our newborn child or grandchild; sexual intimacy; winning a race; finishing a big project we have labored months on at work; entering our first new home or apartment, etc. The feeling is eternal, seemingly it will never end; we will never have to return to the ordinary. How good it is for us to be here.
But reality is earthbound and everyday. The readings today keep us hopeful, but sober. There are no quick fixes, no guaranteed remedies for the doldrums and the struggles, just the ongoing reminder that our faith is in the One who walked our path, all the way down the mountain to death. But his fidelity to God’s way, even unto death, was crowned by God’s raising him from death. His way is our way and his Spirit is our Spirit - the Spirit of fidelity to discipleship, the Spirit of trust as we walk down the mountain.
I am sure the disciples, before they left the mountain that day, glanced back over their shoulders at the place where things had been so clear for them. We too look over our shoulders. When life’s “transfiguration moments” have ended, we glance back over our shoulders at a world torn apart by war and hatred, by human suffering, sickness and death. There’s a Peter in each of us, wanting to hold on those moments that feel so special and unending. There is nothing wrong in that, as long as we remember that it isn’t just in the glory moments of life that God is present to us.
The Transfiguration showed the disciples that beneath the everyday appearance of Jesus, the divine dwelt. So it is in our lives now - most likely a long way from any mountain-top epiphany. Summer comfort notwithstanding, we too have been transfigured and today we are challenged to transform our lives - to let the glory of God guide us and shine through us... to focus on God along the rough road of the our daily lives... knowing that God is near, that He understands our pain, and that He will sustain us and carry us through.