Growing up in the eighties two of the biggest things for boys were GoBots and Transformers. Personally, I liked GoBots better but both had the same general principle. They were something that when the time came would transform into something else. Most of the time it was cars, but sometimes buildings, rocks, and so on. For the longest time when I heard the story of the transfiguration of Christ I always thought of the GoBots I played with as a kid.
On one hand this was good imagery for the Transfiguration. On the mountain, Jesus is transfigured in front of Peter, John, and James. Right before their eyes, Jesus changes from a man into something more. However, that is where things kind of fall apart. Since the transfiguration is not really a moment where Jesus goes from one state of being to another, it is more of a revealing of how Jesus was the whole time.
For the three, this was a significant moment when they saw that Christ was much more then who they thought he would was. Yet, as the story lets us know, they still could not fully understand what they were seeing. To their eyes, Christ was in something like an ordination ceremony but it would have been the ceremony of all ordination ceremonies. But, they did not make the connection fully. Even though Jesus explained to them what went on, their future actions revealed the disciples' lack of understanding.
Instead of thinking of this as a transformation, I like to see this as more of a revealing. Jesus brought the disciples to a place where he could be fully revealed to the disciples. The truth of the passage is that other then a light show nothing is changing; Jesus was the same going up the mountain as he was coming down. Even in the moment one could justifiably argue that there is no real change.
The line, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white,” points to something that has much more to do with the nature of the event then to some magical metamorphosis. I liken it to watching a child see their parents who have been deployed for over a year. Watching a child's face change states from whatever it may be to pure joy is amazing! Here, Christ is being reunited with his father and in doing so changes into the joy which comes from that reunion. So what about the clothes becoming white? Who knows, but it does not signify a change in the person of Christ, rather his state of being.
Here is the interesting thing, by looking at the story with analogies like the GoBots or, as I have also used in the past, butterflies, the emphasis of the story is often put in the wrong place. Christ has always and will always be the same. Thus, the basis of this story has little to do with the change that happens in him as it does with the change that happens in us. When we make the story about magical things that happen, we remove ourselves from the world of belief and enter to the world of unbelief. When we see this passage as a revealing, we are forced to ask ourselves how many times Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, have revealed themselves to us yet we were either blissfully ignorant, refused to understand, or neglected to care.
The truth is that when Christ is revealed in our lives, it is not some magical transformation. Christ is not hiding somewhere waiting to transform into something big and powerful. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is there with us each and everyday, and when we believe, we can see the full beauty of our lord now and forever.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen