“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mk. 9:2-4)
Often people think that this is an occasion when the deity of Jesus is revealed. He’s really God even though He looks like a man. So He goes up there on the mountain and gets all shiny because He’s God. But while it is certainly true that Jesus is God, there are a number of clues that Mark gives us indicating that the transfiguration is actually pointing to something else.
First of all, the event reminds us of Moses’ “transfiguration” when he returned to the camp of Israel with a glowing face (Ex. 34:29ff). Moses shows up again here, explicitly linking the two events. And Peter’s suggestion about building the tabernacles is probably related to this fact. He knew that the glory cloud came down off Sinai and filled the tent of meeting, and thus perhaps the same thing would happen here too (Ex. 40:34).
But this also raises the question about Elijah. What is he doing here? The connection to Elijah is also related to exposure to God’s glory. In fact, when Elijah is fleeing for his life from Ahab and Jezebel, he ends up on Mt. Sinai, the same place Moses was when the glory of God passed by him and lit his face up. There, the text doesn’t say that Elijah became bright and shiny, but it does say that God passed before him, just like what happened with Moses. Later, when Elijah ascended in the fiery chariots, he did become bright and fiery.
We should also think of Stephen’s face as he preached before he died. Acts says that his face became like an angel, and it seems likely that it became bright and shone (Acts 6:15ff). The point is that Jesus becoming bright and shining with the white glory of God is not primarily about Him being God, but rather about Him being God’s goal for man. What Moses experienced in a fading way, what Elijah likewise experienced momentarily, what even Stephen prefigured is humanity glorified, humanity healed, men and women shining with the glory of the Spirit. Mark even goes to the trouble to associate the transfiguration with the sixth day. What did God create on the sixth day? Man and woman. But in Christ God is re-creating the world, re-creating man and woman in His own glorious image.
Baptism is an anointing. In some traditions, the pastor actually puts a bit of oil on the new Christian to emphasize this fact. And when someone is anointed with oil they become shiny. But the anointing of baptism points to a deeper sort of anointing, the anointing of the Spirit, the Spirit that came down at Pentecost and lit up the apostles so that they shone with the glory of the Risen and Ascended Christ.
So Hannah, as you raise up Penelope to serve King Jesus, remind her of this day. Remind her of her baptism. Remind her that she has been anointed by the Holy Spirit. But also teach her that the Spirit is fire, and that means that the Spirit is at work in our lives burning away our sin and weaknesses. But because she belongs to Jesus every hardship, every weakness, every failure is being used by the Spirit to make her shine more brightly. And teach her to do this by modeling this kind of faith for her. When you see storms coming, hardships, even your own sin, roll up your sleeves and remember that you belong to Jesus, God’s beloved Son, who was raised from the dead.