The transfiguration of Jesus Christ is a beautiful story found in all Synoptic Gospels where Jesus is transfigured, in all his glory, on a mountain top to three of his apostles - Peter, James and John.
The transfiguration not only supports the identity of Jesus as the Son of God (as in his baptism), but the statement "listen to him," identifies him as the messenger and mouth-piece of God. The significance of this identification is enhanced by the presence of Elijah and Moses, for it indicates to the apostles that Jesus is the voice of God, and instead of Elijah or Moses, he should be listened to, surpassing the laws of Moses. What an opportunity for Christ's disciples Peter, James and John. To not just see, but fully experience Jesus in all His glory. And yet...they were afraid. In fact, the scriptures take it even one step further and say that they were terrified. So terrified they fell facedown to the ground. As I read this passage, I understand the disciples were not expecting this transformation. It probably caught them off guard and was an experience like nothing they had ever been through. However, they were with Jesus. They had been with Jesus. They knew who he was. They had heard him preach and teach and do miracles and even reveal himself as the Son of God. And yet, they were still afraid.
Sometimes the disciples’ behavior makes me scratch my head. All throughout the New Testament we see them do and say things in the presence of Jesus that I read about and can't help but think, "That would not be my response." Things like fighting over which one of them, which one of the disciples Jesus loves the most, or who gets to sit next to him at dinner, or betraying him, or denying him. How could someone who has witnessed the miracles, the teachings, and the love of Jesus Christ be so silly, or defiant...or afraid?
And then, I can't help but think...how could I? Now, don't get me wrong, I have never seen Jesus, or walked with Jesus - at least not in the same sense, in the same way that the disciples did - but Jesus has undoubtedly, time and time and time again - over and over - revealed himself to me in mighty ways. And yet, time and time again - over and over again - I can be silly, I can be defiant, and I can be afraid.
When I was a young child, the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a mom. When people would ask me, "How many children would you like?" I would look at them square and answer, "18!" I have no idea why 18 - but that's how serious I was about my dream. It's the only one I ever had. So, in the year 2000, when I became pregnant, I was ecstatic. This was the beginning of all my dreams coming true. Over the next five years, my husband and I experienced unspeakable tragedy. We lost our first pregnancy at nine months with the birth of our stillborn daughter. Our next pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Our third pregnancy, I finally gave birth to the most beautiful boy the world has ever known, Charlie. However, I lost Charlie just eight short months later. I also lost his baby sister, Louisa, after eight months in the summer of 2005. They were both born with a rare metabolic disease - untreatable, incurable.
The summer of 2005 proved to be the darkest in all my life. I would wake up and often ponder how I could end my life. I had no purpose, no joy and no hope for a future without children. My dreams of becoming a mom had only ended in heartbreak. Those dreams had been shattered forever. I was deeply depressed and unbelievable afraid. The tragedy I had experience made it very difficult for me to trust that life was worth living. I was not a deeply religious or spiritual person at the time, but something inside of me told me that the only way out of this was something much bigger than me. So, I decided to make an appointment with my pastor.
As I sat down with him that hot summer day, I shared with him in great detail how sad I was. Lonely. Depressed. Afraid. I told him about all my loss. When I finished speaking through an ocean of tears, he just looked at me. And after a long pause asked, "Are you done?" I responded, "Yes." And then he said, "Tova, what are you going to do now?" I told him I had no idea and that that is why I was there. I was afraid. I didn't know how to live. I didn't know how to be. Exist. Without pausing he looked at me and he said, "Tova, the Lord did not put you on this earth to sit around and cry about your dead children. The scriptures say, this is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it!" He then left the room and came back with the human resources director of the church and said, "Tova, you need a job. You need to get out of your home, and we need help at the church. I will see you at 9:00 a.m. on Monday." And he promptly left the room for the two of us to work out the details.
I honestly thought he had lost his mind. Never in a million years did I think that this was the workings of a loving heavenly Father who looks after and takes care of His children. Walking into the church that next Monday morning was so incredibly scary. I was so sad, broken - filled with feelings of worthlessness and heartache. Sometimes, it was just difficult to breathe. I had no idea what a leap of faith walking into that church was or what God would do in my life in the coming years. But, it was truly transforming. The first six months were the hardest. Just getting out of bed took all the energy I had. I still cried a lot, but soon the clouds began to lift a little - and some days I could even feel myself smile. In that church, God revealed himself to me in ways that I never ever imagined. I experienced his love, his miracles - his healing power in my life that still feels so incredibly supernatural. Over the next ten years, I moved from adult ministry to youth ministry to eventually becoming the pastor of the contemporary congregation. God's healing power allowed me to become his disciple - a true follower of Jesus Christ who now has a very intimate relationship with my Creator.
And yet, just like the disciples, I can still be silly, defiant, and afraid.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ is not always easy. Jesus is not Santa Claus. Just because we believe in him and are good doesn't mean we get everything we want. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. Not only that...sometimes it requires things of us. Following Jesus can take sacrifice on our part. Courage that we don't feel we have. And yet, Jesus has promised us He will never ask something of us He won't give us the strength to get us through. Sometimes, that's not only hard for me to believe, it's hard for me to remember.
Every morning I wake up and I ask God to light my path and show me the way. Sometimes, it scares me that this is my prayer. What if God takes me somewhere I don't want to go? What if God asks me to do something I don't want to do? What if it requires something of me that makes me uncomfortable? What if? Then God will give me the courage to do it, and if I feel like I can't muster it up inside of me, I can always borrow from God.
When I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I can't help but get tears in my eyes. It was in these moments that Jesus was so human. He was overwhelmed, exhausted, alone and afraid. And in those darkest moments of our Savior's life, even he was down on his knees begging his Father to take it. To please, please take it. But God did not take it. God did not take any of it. His perfect Son was meant to go through all of that pain for each one of us. God did not take it, but he did give Jesus the strength to endure it. It's hard to believe it, but even Jesus, in those moments, in that garden, had to borrow courage from his Father. Even Jesus has been afraid.
Life is crazy. It can be so wonderful and joyful and full of so many wonderful surprises, but it can also be incredibly sad, unpredictable and hard. Sometimes life can feel impossible. But the truth is, it is not impossible. Jesus has made each one of us a beautiful promise - that he will never leave us, that he will never forsake us. Forsake, that's a scary word. It means abandon, dessert, leave, quit, give up, relinquish - Jesus is never ever going to do those things to us. No matter what the calling, the ask, the path - he is always right there with us. When we feel weak, he is strong. When we feel unworthy, he will remind us that we were worth the cross. Until we find the strength, we can borrow from him - and when we ask for it - he will come.
Even the disciples were afraid. Even them. But more importantly, even Jesus. Even Jesus, who trusts his Father more than anything or anyone, needed courage. And the Father gave him exactly what he needed to endure - to endure even the cross. We can also stand in that truth. We can trust that we are never alone. And that even when we are afraid, God will continue to reveal himself in the most beautiful of ways.
Let us pray.
Precious Father, we give you thanks that you are a God of strength, that you are a God of courage, and that you will never, ever, ever leave us or forsake us. Help us to not just hear those words, God, but to trust. To trust that you are a loving, heavenly Father, who intimately knows and cares about each one of his children. We love you, Jesus. Thank you. Thank you for the life you lived, for the pain that you suffered for each one of us so we could find our way back to you. It's in your holy and precious name we pray, the name of Jesus. Amen.