Believe it or not, the Season of Lent is just around the corner. It will start this coming Wednesday, which is Ash Wednesday. Yes, Lent starts very early this year, so from today, we better prepare our hearts, our time, our surroundings, and ourselves for this meaningful season of repentance and renewal. For me, one of my preparations for the coming Lent is to get this robe dry-cleaned. Unfortunately, this robe is not a magical, stain-proof garment. It is just like any other cloth I have, so it should be cleaned regularly. So I dropped it off at my cleaner and picked it up last week. Today, I took it right from the cleaner’s hanger and guess what…I feel like it’s transfigured. Its bright white color has returned, and it is freshly ironed.
However, I know, and we all know that this robe will get dirty soon again. Some of you may have seen me before going (coming) to the other (our) church wearing this robe. Yes, I usually have no time to take it off and put it back on. So I just get on my car in it. Certainly, it makes my robe easily get dirty and wrinkled. Also, I step on it frequently. And when it’s rainy or snowy, it is quite hard for me to keep it clean. Just like any other cloth I have, this robe gets dirt on it, stains on it, wrinkles on it…its bright white color and freshly ironed fit will be disfigured soon. Then, what? It’s time for another cleaning.
Somehow, like my robe and like our cloth, our lives go through similar transitions. What I mean by transition is that in our lives, we experience the moments of transfiguration and of disfiguration. As Christians, we are transfigured by the grace of God and feel like we become better persons without the stains of sins and within the bright presence of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time, our vulnerable lives get easily disfigured in our dusty struggles and mundane strivings. We feel like nice and spotless one day, and we feel like dirty and unclean the other day. True, as a traditional Christian doctrine says, we are simultaneously the justified children of holy God and yet the sinners of the world (Martin Luther: simul justus et peccator). And our lives are filled with the moments of spiritual ups and downs through ceaseless transitions.
Then, through those transitions, where is my life, and your life, ultimately heading towards? The answer is clear. We are going toward the end, which is our death. This is so true. And death is nothing but the terminal disfiguration of life. As our cloth gets worn out and torn apart, life loses its charm and brightness altogether at the end.
In today’s Gospel story, when Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop in front of Peter, James and John, “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3). Then, the Gospel brings Moses and Elijah, the two greatest prophets in the history of Israel, into the scene. They are talking with Jesus in the divine glory. And according to the Gospel of Luke, they are speaking of Jesus’ departure to Jerusalem and what he is going to accomplish there soon (Luke 9:29-31). Here, we can see that the transfiguration of Jesus is not just any given event but an event that leads to the final days of Jesus. In all the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this transfiguration story is commonly located right after Jesus teaches his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection. Also commonly after the transfiguration, Jesus and the disciples embark on their journey to Jerusalem where Jesus is arrested and crucified.
A critical life transition is waiting for Jesus. The transfigured glorious Jesus is now taking his step on his way to be disfigured on the cross. And his dazzling white cloth is now going to be stained with blood, pierced and torn apart by the Roman soldiers who eventually take it off and cast lot for it. At the end of this radical transition, Jesus finally encounters his death on the cross. Jesus died just like any other humans. But his life becomes special as Jesus defeats the disfiguring power of death by his transfiguring power of resurrection. The story becomes our hope as he reveals us that disfiguration is not the final; death is not the final. The story becomes extraordinary as the resurrected Jesus shows us that there is a dimension of ultimate transfiguration in God even within our ordinary life transitions.
Our ordinary life transitions may lead us to disfiguration. As my robe and our cloth get dirty, it is just natural. Then isn’t this good news that we can be always transfigured by the power of Jesus’ resurrection? And isn’t this good news that we can always transform our lives walking with the transfigured and the resurrected Jesus, in hope of our own final transfiguration beyond our death?
In preparation of the coming Lent, one thing we can do is to look into our spiritual cloth. We may find it dirty. Lent is the time that we may realize it’s time for another cleaning. When our life looks like an unclean cloth in our laundry basket, it’s time for us to walk on the way of repentance and renewal. It is time for us to walk with Jesus through our life transitions. From this Transfiguration Sunday, let us prepare our journey with Jesus, our journey of transformation. To reach the glory of the resurrection, Jesus sets his path to Jerusalem and to the cross right from this Transfiguration. Following Jesus’ footsteps on the path, we will find our moments of transfiguration. As Paul expresses, we will “put on Christ” afresh. And we will see Jesus who clothes us with his grace, with his dazzling and radiant love.
Are you ready to follow him through the forty days of wilderness experience in this Season of Lent? Are you ready to renew your live and clean your spiritual cloth by walking the way of the cross, denouncing evil and sin, and keeping your daily adherence to Christ? Are you ready to take your life transitions into another dimension of divine glory? Now is the time to make a clear decision. May the power of transfiguring grace fill us and guide us as we go on our journey to be true disciples of God. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim