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  • The Rev. Dr. Brian Rajcok

The Glorious Light

Mark 9:2-9

In his book Consciousness Beyond Life Dutch cardiologist Dr. Pim van Lommel explores the science of near-death-experiences.  That is, the experiences of those who have died and been resuscitated, who experienced some sort of consciousness during the time they were supposed to be dead.  One of the common features of the near-experience-death is the perception of a bright light.  He opens his book with the story of a woman who died for a time during childbirth.  She reported having a sense of floating above her body and watching doctors and nurses frantically try to get her more blood and save her life.  After noticing her body below her, the woman described what happened next:    

“Swift as an arrow, I fly through a dark tunnel.  I’m engulfed by an overwhelming feeling of peace and bliss.  I feel intensely satisfied, happy, calm, and peaceful.  I hear wonderful music.  I see beautiful colors and gorgeous flowers in all colors of the rainbow in a large meadow.  At the far end is a beautiful, clear, warm light.  This is where I must go.  I see a figure in a light garment.  This figure is waiting for me and reaches out her hand.  It feels like a warm and loving welcome.  Hand in hand, we move toward the beautiful and warm light.  Then she lets go of my hand and turns around.  I feel something pulling me back.  I notice a nurse slapping me hard on my cheeks and calling my name.”[1]   


Later in the book, Van Lommel explains that an encounter with a bright light or a being of light is a common feature in a near-death-experience.  He writes:  

“The light is described as an extremely bright, nonblinding light that permeates everything. People are drawn to this light and are usually completely enveloped by it.  Sometimes this light is experienced as a being, and some religious people identify it as Jesus, an angel, or a being of light.  A person’s religious background is a significant determining factor in the naming of this being of light.  People report direct communication with this being; as if it reads their mind and responds through the mind.  While enveloped by this light, people experience total acceptance and unconditional love and have access to a deep knowledge and wisdom.”[2]   

The experience of a bright light is something that happened in our Gospel reading this morning.  In this passage we witness Jesus himself as a glorious being of light.  In this text, three disciples—Peter, James, and John—are invited by Jesus to follow him up a mountain.  There, we read that he was transfigured before them.  Shining so brightly that words cannot describe it.  They witness Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest Hebrew prophets.  The disciples are awe-struck in the presence of this all-compassing light.  And Mark tells us that Peter, not knowing what to say, blurts out something about building three little shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to live in here on the mountaintop.  Then the voice of God booms from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  The disciples cover their faces in fear and when they look back up all they saw was Jesus standing alone, back to normal.  And on the way down the mountain Jesus tells them not to speak of this experience to anyone until he has been raised from the dead. 

This is the story of the Transfiguration and today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is a transition Sunday following the season after Epiphany and marking our final Sunday before the season of Lent begins. It’s the last Sunday we sing Alleluia in church before Easter, and a day we focus on the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ. A day we celebrate before we enter into the discipline of focusing on Christ’s journey to the cross during Lent.

We read the experience of Jesus at the mountaintop the week before Lent begins because this is a hinge moment in the Gospel story. Just before this Jesus told his disciples about his upcoming crucifixion for the first time. And after this moment Jesus starts his journey toward Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week. In this passage about the Transfiguration we get to witness Jesus in all his glory before he enters into his agony. We get to join Peter and James and John in their astonishment and awe. We get to witness Jesus shining brightly and witness the majesty of God declaring Jesus God’s Beloved Son. In this passage, we are invited to live into this moment of a mountaintop spiritual experience.

And in the coming weeks, we will walk down the mountain. We will follow Jesus on the road to the cross. We follow Jesus from the glory of the mountaintop to the anguish of calvary. From the wondrous light of the Transfiguration to the darkness of Good Friday.

This movement of the church year itself takes us on a journey. The scripture readings guide us as we reflect on the life of Jesus and watch the story unfold. We even get to participate in this journey as we worship, reflect, and dedicate ourselves to living out this story in our own lives

We may be tempted to want Jesus to stay on the mountaintop. To forget about his suffering and death. We may not want to think about it. We’d rather reflect on the wonderful things about life. To praise the Risen Christ without looking at his cross. To observe a theology of glory, as Martin Luther called it, instead of a theology of the cross. But scripture forces us to take seriously the reality of suffering and death. And so we follow Jesus down the light-filled mountain into the dark valleys below. Called to intentionally reflect on the mystery of suffering, sin, and death. To remember our own mortality. To confess our sin. To walk the more challenging road of costly discipleship.

Like the woman who had a near-death-experience and saw the glorious light of realms beyond this world, but returned to her hospital bed to the hard slaps of a nurse—Jesus also left the beautiful light of the mountaintop to enter back into the world. Down the mountain for our sake. Out of abundant love for us. In order to save and redeem the world.

So too, are we are called to follow Jesus down the mountain. To reverently observe the coming season and understand ourselves as pilgrims along the way. Travelers with Jesus who forgo the glorious light of heaven for a time, while we walk this earthly pilgrimage. A pilgrimage that inevitably includes pain and suffering, evil and sin, sadness and grief, doubt and confusion, and eventually ends in death. For Jesus and for us. This day reminds us that Jesus left the splendor and glory of the light and entered into the darkness of sin and suffering.

But we also know that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light no darkness shall overcome. As the Gospel of John says, a light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Even when all seemed lost on Good Friday, even after Jesus willing died and surrendered to the powers of evil, even when his disciples thought it was all over—Jesus Christ rose again and light burst forth from eternity into this world. The incredible light of Easter follows the dreadful darkness of Good Friday. God’s brilliant light outshines all the darkness of this world and redeems us and makes us whole. And we know that that’s the Good News that awaits us.

And so while we’re still on the mountaintop, let us celebrate the glory of the Transfiguration. Let us celebrate the fact that we are children of the Light. Let us celebrate the fact that Jesus walks with us, guides us, and supports us through life. Let us celebrate the fact that our lord and savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Alleluia. Thanks be to God. +

Pastor Brian | February, 11 2024.

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[1] Van Lommel, Pim (2010). Consciousness beyond life: The science of the near-death experience. Harper Collins Publishers. Pg. 2.   

[2] Van Lommel, Pim (2010). Consciousness beyond life: The science of the near-death experience. Harper Collins Publishers. Pg. 33-34.


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