The Transfiguration, you see, is a story with all kinds of echoes and allusions, isn’t it. It looks a lot like Jesus’s baptism, with a voice from heaven announcing, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!” And it’s got all the trappings of an Old Testament encounter with the divine. It’s not subtle. Moses himself is there, the first person to shine with glory from being in the presence of God on a mountain. And Elijah was too, the prophet who left earth in a flaming chariot, not death, and who was expected to return to make things right.
It’s telling that in Scripture, God makes creation by naming. He creates the stars and brings them into being by calling them each by name. Creation appears as an answer to God’s speech, the Word goes forth and creates, makes new, and a resounding wave of God’s own life bounces back to God, “it does not return to him empty,” as Isaiah sings. Humanity is a particular piece of this whole movement, that God is constantly speaking to us who we are, and we, in the process of our creation, are trying to resemble that Word more and more, to repeat it back more fully. We are called, all of us; and that calling is to be ourselves, as particular as each star in resounding back a common chorus of God’s self-giving, compassionate love.
Believing such a gospel can change us. Believing such a gospel could give us the courage to be more truthful about our fears and our failures because it insists that the kingdom of God actually blossoms and rises and searches among the fearful and the failed. Believing this about ourselves might then make room in our hearts for the failures of our neighbors. And if we were really to let this nonsense transform us to the extent it did Jesus himself, we might even wonder whether the archest of our enemies — our crucifiers, even — is where God’s kingdom is most likely to bloom into being next. Forgiveness is just how we manage to be present when it does.
Through our adoption as God’s children – God’s heirs, grace is no longer a simple formula for our salvation. Instead, grace opens up an entire tapestry of a rich, often messy, ongoing journey in relationship, marked by growth, learning, forgiveness, service, and love.
There is an element of acceptance and an element of disruption in the life of faith. Both are essential. We need people in our lives who tend more toward one than the other. We need firstborns and we need tricksters. Maybe what we need to accept first is that there’s some of each of them in each of us. And maybe if we can learn to befriend the Jacob and the Esau in ourselves our lives will grow toward the wholeness God has made us for.