Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed. (2 Corinthians 3.17-18)
The 2013 liturgical calendar barely gives us time to recover from Christmas before catapulting us into Lent. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’m ready. When I opened the lectionary to see that this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 9.28-43) returns to the Mount of Transfiguration—as always happens on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday—a shroud of fatigue and dread settled over me. Was I up for this? I could probably rally, much like I do when I drag myself out of bed in the wee hours to catch an early flight. But that wouldn’t be the right approach to this season. We should come to Lent with eyes and hearts wide open, knowing it will ask more than we expect, yet eager to meet its demands. I wasn’t sure I had enough in me to do that. I told myself, “Better dose up on faith, Buster.” Then I did what I always do when faith is in short supply: I prayed. “God, I hope You’ve got this,” I said, “because I can’t make this journey on my own.”
A few hours later I got an email from a close friend who’s never set much store in “organized religion.” He’d just heard an interview with Gloria Loring (an actress neither he nor I recalled) discussing her autobiography. I’ll let him tell the rest:
Well, she really is a fantastic lady… open-minded, etc. I know you don’t like the word, but amazingly spiritual. Anyway, the most interesting quote is the title of her book, Coincidence is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous. When I heard it, I just could not stop thinking about it… so simple, yet effective. Well it turns out to be a quote of Albert Einstein’s. I just couldn’t get it out of my head.
I’d never heard the quote and now I can’t get it out of my head, either. A fountain of faith burst through its seven words—from Einstein, no less! I was overcome with reassurance. I’ll be frank: at this moment, I just don’t have the energy for the wilderness that lies ahead. But when Wednesday comes, it will be there, because God is at work. Whether through direct inspiration or the anonymity of happenstance, strength for this journey will arrive. How can I be so sure? Because the Transfiguration story portrays one of Scripture’s greatest examples of how God is revealed in seeming coincidence.
Good for Us to Be Here
The story begins uneventfully. Jesus needs to get away to pray. He takes Peter, John, and James with Him and they climb a mountain, leaving the other disciples behind. Scripture doesn’t indicate why Jesus selects them. In retrospect, we know they become pillars of the Church and what transpires on the mountaintop will be a pivotal moment in their faith lives. Whether Jesus intends for them to see what transpires there we can’t say. We can, however, suppose that from their perspective, witnessing the Transfiguration is purely coincidental. They have no idea if this is a singular event, or if this sort of thing happens regularly when Jesus prays in solitude. All they know is they’re there by seeming coincidence to see Jesus utterly transformed, conversing in spirit with Moses and Elijah, after which they’re engulfed in a cloud of God’s undiluted presence. A voice instructs: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” (Luke 9.35) And there it is: this is no coincidence at all. Peter, James, and John have been brought to this mountain to discover Who Jesus really is. God has chosen this experience to provide them with very particular knowledge in a very particular way. When the veil of coincidence is removed, they have no doubt God is at work in their lives.
After seeing Jesus transfigured—essentially getting a preview of the Resurrected Christ’s appearance—Peter starts to get it. He says, “Master, it is good for us to be here.” (v33) His first impulse is to build three structures, one each for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, to commemorate the experience. But God dismisses Peter’s idea with the proclamation, because Peter is called to construct something more enduring and significant than a mountaintop memorial. He will the become the Church’s chief engineer, relying heavily on John and James’ assistance as they build the living, breathing Body of Christ together. And when he says, “It’s good we’re here,” he doesn’t grasp the import of his comment. He doesn’t realize that, by watching the changes in Jesus’s person, he too has been changed. Once they leave the mountain, God’s redemptive plan will take shape through a series of apparently random events that, only by hindsight, reveal God’s intentions. A long journey of unanticipated challenges and uncertainty awaits Peter, James, and John. The transformative nature of this experience will strengthen them more than they know. The unshakable assurance that Jesus is God’s Son will sustain them in the coming days, when He’s slandered and persecuted as everything but God’s Chosen Son.
Constantly Being Transformed
Coincidence is God’s creative license. It frees God to move anonymously in the background, bringing us to places where we experience Christ’s transformative power up close and personal. In 2 Corinthians 3.17-18, Paul writes, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed.” We are being transformed, as we discover God’s glory at every turn—sometimes through deliberate prayer and study, but just as often through ostensibly random circumstances that cause us to say, “Master, it is good for us to be here.”
Perhaps you’re primed for Lent. I pray you are. But if, like me, you’re concerned about mustering stamina for the days ahead, know that God is working behind the scenes to bring you to a place of renewed strength and commitment. Lent’s season of consecration begins with confessing we can’t make this journey on our own.
We don’t have to be Einsteins to discern that God is at work in our lives, moving behind the scenes to bring us to places of renewed strength and commitment.