Epiphany season in the church has been a time through the centuries to sense the power of God’s self-revelation to the world. It is the season of encouragement that immediately follows Christmas and precedes Ash Wednesday and Lent. Epiphany is a reminder that though Christ is about to enter his “dark night of the soul” in the controversies that led to his crucifixion, he knows full well just who he is. He is God-Incarnate, God-in-the-Flesh.
This knowledge changes everything. It doesn’t lessen the pain and humiliation that Christ is about to undergo, but it does help him endure it. Epiphany season ends with the greatest affirmation of Christ’s personhood, Transfiguration Sunday, which we commemorate this Sunday. On the sacred mountain, Jesus is reminded that only he is God’s beloved son. Though the valley of suffering is deep beyond compare, God will transfigure the ordinary into extraordinary, the crown of thorns into a crown of Gold.
Transfiguration Sunday’s climatic end to Epiphany season doesn’t diminish the pain Jesus resolved to endure, but it did fortify his soul for the journey. Isn’t this why we come to Sunday School and Worship? Isn’t the Lord’s Day our Day of Transfiguration? We seek to find out who we are on Sunday and pray that it helps us through the dark nights of the work-a-day week.
Such a transfiguration took place in the life of a man named Ben Hooper. Fred Craddock ran across an elderly gentleman by this name at a restaurant just off I-40 in east Tennessee. The older gentleman found out that Fred Craddock was a seminary professor, a teacher of preachers, in Atlanta. The gentleman, without hesitation, said that he had a story to tell about a preacher. Fred had heard many such stories over the years but he listened attentively. The old gentleman told how he was born in the hills nearby, and that his mother was not married. He described how children made fun of him and called him names. He recalled how everyone would stare at his face trying to figure out who his daddy really was.
The old man said he felt embarrassed and unworthy everywhere he went, especially church. At church, as a young boy, he would slip into the back pew after the singing began and slip out before the last hymn finished. One night, however, the new Methodist preacher talked long and hard about God’s grace and love for everyone no matter who they were. He was mesmerized. Before he could slip out, a group of people had already queued up in the aisle. Before he could move, he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the preacher! He spoke while staring at the boy’s face, “Well, son, let me see who you are. Oh, yes! I see a striking resemblance. You’re a child of God … Go out and claim your inheritance!”
The older man told Dr. Fred Craddock that night transfigured his life. He felt God’s grace like never before. It changed him forever. Fred Craddock asked the man what his name was again, knowing this would make a great story to tell preachers. The old man replied, “Ben Hooper.” “Ben Hooper, Ben, Ben Hooper!” Craddock thought to himself. And suddenly it came to him that his father had once told him about the time when, for two terms, the people of Tennessee had elected a man named Ben Hooper, who had been born to an unwed mother, as governor of their state. What a difference transfiguration makes!
Think about the millions of people around us who need a transfiguration. They wonder if the institutional church is relevant, and so do I. However, the Gospel is relevant, if we’ll connect to people and let people know through word and deed that Jesus has made a difference in our lives. People are starving for salvation and need transfiguration. I pray that we will guide them in real, relational, and relevant ways to an encounter with the Living God!