When was the last time you almost missed something? Did you catch a glimpse of a celebrity out of the corner of your eye just before she got into her car? Were you relieved to make it to your son’s school play after your flight back into town was delayed? Did you make it to your father’s bedside just in time to say goodbye before he took his last breath?
Life is full of those moments—times when we might have missed something special but just barely caught it. And the degree to which we might have missed them heightens our appreciation of the experience. Our gratitude swells with the nearness of the miss.
In today's gospel lesson (Luke 9:28-36), we catch up with Jesus and his disciples eight days after Jesus had told them that he would be killed and would rise again. Then, he took with him Peter, James, and John, and they went up on a mountain to pray. While they were there, something amazing happened. Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes and skin began to skin began to shine like the sun. They became a dazzling white. Two men appeared there alongside Jesus, talking with him, Moses and Elijah. A loud voice—the voice of God—boomed from the sky declaring, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” And then it all vanished, and things returned to normal. And my favorite part is the fact that the disciples almost missed it.
Peter, James, and John, Luke tells us, were “weighed down with sleep.” They were exhausted. They had been keeping a furious pace. And the recent revelation that Jesus—the one to whom they had pledged their lives—would be killed had exhausted them. They tossed and turned in their sleep. They stayed up late talking about it amongst themselves. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, they were completely spent. Then, they came up on the mountain to pray, and their heads started to sag. Their breathing slowed down. And their eyes kept taking longer and longer blinks.
But, like a baseball fan who tries desperately to stay awake and watch his team battle it out in a game that goes into extra innings, sometimes fighting off sleep is rewarded. In the twelfth inning, a double off the wall sends a runner from first base all the way around to home, where he slides under the tag and wins the game in walk-off fashion. Just as the disciples started to doze off, the mountain was bathed in a radiant light, and their persistence paid off. They were able to see Jesus’ divine nature—the godhead dwelling within him—shining through. The Law and the Prophets, symbolized by Moses and Elijah, testified to Jesus’ identity as the messiah. God’s own voice confirmed it all by thundering through the cloud and proclaiming Jesus as God’s chosen Son. And the disciples almost missed it!
The Transfiguration is one of the holiest days in the church’s year. In the Orthodox tradition, it is one of the twelve great feasts, and in the Episcopal Church it is one of three observance that, in addition to the seven principle feasts, takes precedence over a Sunday. (That means it makes the top ten list.) Partly, we celebrate today the amazing moment when Jesus’ divinity was revealed to the disciples—the bright light, the mystic appearance of Moses and Elijah, the descent of the divine cloud, and the Father’s voice. But I also think the Transfiguration is about celebrating those fleeting moments that we almost miss.
A rainbow in your rear view mirror. A quiet moment on the couch with your daughter. A shot out of a sand trap that rolls into the cup. A tear-filled reading of the last page of a great novel. These are holy moments, and we could miss them if we aren’t paying attention. Like Jesus, they seem ordinary unless our heart’s sightedness shakes off the sleepiness of ordinary life and seeks out the transcendent. We walk through life “weighed down by sleep.” And God is shining through all around us. Will we stop and notice him? Will we persist through the dullness of normalcy until we glimpse the power of God?