The gospel for March 12, (Mk 9:2-10) relates the Transfiguration story, a truly weird tale in which the disciples momentarily experience Jesus in his Divinity. It's kind of a theatrical smoke and laser beam moment which scared the crud out of the disciples. Mark the Evangelist, so much in touch with the raw emotions of his characters, has the disciples frozen in terror – all except for Peter. Evidently a man who deals with stress by babbling, Peter expresses an incoherent desire to memorialize the moment, even in the midst of experiencing it. If he had a camera, you just know he would be fiddling with apertures and shutter speeds, trying to line up the best shot. A funny and very human moment from Mark.
But as I listened to the tale, I was struck by another aspect:
As they were coming down from the mountain,We, living 2000 years after the fact, and having the benefit of two millennia of reflection, know what "rising from the dead" means. It's hard to understand why the disciples were confused. Perhaps Jesus was actually a bit more cryptic about what he said. Maybe he said only, "...except when the Son of Man was been raised". No less true, no less applicable, but so much more cryptic. And a good explanation for why the disciples were confused. They were hardly idiots, after all. Not educated by our standards, perhaps. But you don't make a living from the sea with a head full of hay.
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
Perhaps, though, the disciples could not reconcile the obvious power and majesty they had just experienced with something so mundane as suffering and death. Certainly, they must have thought that things were looking up for Christ and for themselves. The show on the mountain must have been an early installment of greater glory just around the corner.
Either way, they were thinking too hard, trying to find a metaphorical or symbolic meaning in a statement of plain fact.
Jesus, in touch with the Divine power of God, would nonetheless die. The disciples couldn't combine those seemingly unconnected categories. Not until they had seen it with their own eyes on Easter morning would any of it begin to make sense.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we?
Let us pray.
Lord, you speak to us plainly, yet we seek to complicate your words. Cross and glory are united in your understanding, but don't really make sense in ours. May we seek to understand your plain meaning: that the way to glory is through the grave; the way to light is through the valley of darkness and death; the way to your life is through the denial of our own; the way to your union with you is through opposition to the standards of this world -- fleeting fame, comfort, pleasure, power and beauty.
In your name we pray,
Illustration from http://www.kublai.com/ depicting the results of an experiment to determine the amount of electricity required to ignite a Twinkie dessert cake. Answer: 1800 volts.