Last Sunday was an extremely rare one for me. Because the group that calls themselves “Blue Grass from Heaven” was going to be present at Florence, I would not be preaching there, and so took the Sunday off, figuring that it had been quite some time since my last Sunday off, which was when I was in China in September. I do not want to encourage you to do what I did, but I slept in a bit, watched an Illinois basketball game (I do find Sunday college basketball disturbing; blame it on television’s money), and watched the Super Bowl!
My usual way of watching the Illinois basketball games, because of the pressure of time that I feel, is to record it and then begin to watch ten to fifteen minutes or even more into the game, fast-forwarding through the commercials and the half-time. I set up for the Super Bowl the same way and fast-forwarded through half-time so I have no idea how Justin Timberlake performed nor did I see Prince, but I did not want to fast-forward through the commercials; Super Bowl commercials are themselves sort of a “Super Bowl of commercials.”
And one of the themes by one of the sponsors was a gentle mocking of Super Bowl commercials by what seemed to me the most unlikely of football game sponsors: Tide laundry detergent. The commercials would start out as thought they were a car or beer or other commercial, but then a man would appear and declare, “It’s a Tide ad.”
The give away that they were Tide ads was supposed to be the brightness and whiteness of the clothes worn by the characters in the commercials.
Today is the last Sunday before Lent — Ash Wednesday, which I never observed before becoming a Presbyterian, is three days away, so today’s will be our last celebration of the Lord’s Supper until Maundy Thursday, — today is the Sunday that is always observed by reading the story of Jesus’ being transfigured; it is the Sunday that each year we read in one of the three Synoptic Gospel versions of that story, which means that Mark’s version, which we read this year, is probably the original telling of this fascinating story.
Transfigured is indeed a bit of an overstatement of what Mark describes; let me first use the way in which the King James Version, or translation, of almost 500 years ago describes what transpired:
And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. [KJV]
I love that word, fuller, which is not, I suspect, part of most of our vocabularies, “Fuller Brush Man” notwithstanding, so here is how the more recent New King James Version translates the same verse:
His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. [NKJV]
A fuller was probably more of a dyer, but in either case, we have very white garments.
For those who saw the Super Bowl, this sounds like a “Tide Ad.” But of course, it is not, nor was not, though why the focus is on Jesus’ clothes in this story is hard to understand. The main purpose of the story, I believe, is to have Jesus appear with Moses, representing “The Law,” — and Elijah, representing “the Prophets,” for it is and was the Jewish custom to refer to “The Law and the Prophets,” which by the way is the major part of the Hebrew Bible, our “Old” Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of “The Law and the Prophets,” most certainly to the writer of Matthew, and, it would appear, to the writers of Luke and of Mark, the latter of which is, as I said, most likely the source of this story for the other two.
I suppose, in a sense, transfigured might work, not in the sense of Jesus’ clothes, but in how much more completely, seeing Him with Moses and Elijah, how much more completely the Disciples might perceive, might see him, his appearance not changed so much as their now seeing him more completely as just that, the fulfillment of “The Law and the Prophets.”
And so seeing him, were they not transformed as opposed to simply transfigured? Was not there a greater change in them than how they appeared or in how Jesus appeared to them?
And yet, and yet, I do believe that when we grasp all that Jesus means — grasp that the love of God for us survives the worst thing we could do, to kill the Son of God, — when we grasp all that Jesus means, we are transformed. And I believe that our transformation shows in how people perceive, in how people see, us! We are transfigured as well, and people can see in us something different, the presence of Jesus Christ.
And that is something we should want to have seen in the form of kindness and warmth and generosity, something that is as obvious as a clean, white shirt in a Tide Ad, but something far deeper than that.
As we share the Lord’s meal, may the sharing deepen our transformation and may that transformation show; may we be somehow transfigured so that others may see in us the love of God.
And that is of much more meaning and value than a Super Bowl commercial.