By Steven Norris
Transfiguration Sunday. For many, this Sunday will pass by without so much as a blip on the proverbial radar. In the liturgical calendar, however, the Sunday before Lent is the Sunday we remember Jesus taking his “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) up onto the mountain.
There, we read, “And while [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Mark’s gospel says that “he was transfigured before them.” For a moment, the disciples were able to see Jesus in all his glory.
Peter, bless his soul, was not able to keep his mouth shut. You see, Peter had a chronic case of “foot-in-mouth” disease. Seeing Jesus there with Elijah and Moses, Peter wants to set up tents so that they can camp out in the presence of God for a bit. Sometimes, confronted with the holy mystery of God’s presence, we feel the need to explain it away.
I am reminded of a scene from the 1995 movie, “Crimson Tide,” starring Gene Hackman as a hardened submarine commander and Denzel Washington as his new executive officer. The two men are on the bridge, sailing into the setting sun as they prepare to submerge for a 65-day mission into the depths of the ocean.
Hackman’s character (Ramsay) offers his new “XO” a cigar and says, “This is my favorite part. Right here, right now…(long pause)…Bravo, Hunter!”
“Sir?” Washington’s character (Hunter) replies.
“You knew to shut up and enjoy the view. Most eggheads want to talk it away. Your stock just went up a couple of points.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The difference between Peter and Hunter couldn’t be more stark and I firmly believe that they illustrate the objection that many young people today have when it comes to faith. Too often, when confronted by the mystery and wonder of God, the church has been tempted to explain it away by tightening our theological belts and refining our doctrinal statements.
Many young people have heard from the church: “This is what you must believe to be a part of us. This is how you must understand it.” Instead of mystery and awe, many have found the church to be a place of indoctrination and insistence on conformity.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that we should abandon our convictions. Rather, our convictions should rest on the foundation that “we see but through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our human minds and hearts can only comprehend a fraction of the greatness and grandeur of our God.
Could it be that the church is in danger of losing a generation not because of a lack of answers but because we’ve explained away the mystery and wonder of a transcendent God? Maybe the best evangelistic tool we have at our disposal is a willingness to come into the holy mystery of God’s presence and stand in awe-filled silence and wonder — not so that we might explain it away, but so that we may be transformed by its beauty and splendor.