Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Shining"

Text: Mark 9:1-9

2 Peter 1:12-21

 

            How many of you remember a film released almost thirty-five years ago called “The Shining?”  It was a psychological and atmospheric spooky movie based on the 1977 Stephen King novel of  the same title, and featured tour-de-force performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall.

  While the story was centered around the Torrance family and their off-season care-taking of  the Overlook Hotel secluded in the Rocky Mountains, at the heart of the story was a special  bond between the Torrance’s six-year old son Danny and Dick Hollaran, the Overlook’s executive chef. We learn early in the film that these two share an ability to communicate with each  other telepathically, and to see things that no one else can see. In a scene where Danny Torrance and Dick Hollaran first discover that they have this in common, the latter puts a name to  it. Hollaran says to Danny: “I can remember when I was a little boy, my grandmother and I  could hold conversations entirely without even opening our mouths. She called it ‘shining.’ And for a long time, I thought it was just the two of us that had the shine to us. Just like you probably thought you was the only one. But there are other folks, though mostly they don’t know it or don’t believe it.”

            The film The Shining is, of course, fictional. And many of us, me included, tend to be skeptical about things like telepathy and other paranormal activity. Yet what we read about this  morning in Mark [an episode recorded also by Matthew and Luke] certainly falls into that category of paranormal, meaning unexplainable by science. On multiple levels, it’s a story of shining.

            When Jesus was transfigured -- or radically changed in appearance -- on that mountaintop, what exactly happened? It would be as hard to describe what happened as it is to give an accurate description of what goes on in our dreams. Jesus invited his three closest friends – Peter, James, and John – to join Him for a little excursion. Six days before this mountain climb, Jesus  had said to all the disciples: “….there are some standing here who will not taste death until  they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Was it this paranormal episode to  which Jesus was alluding? At any rate, the four of them are together doing whatever Jesus and three disciples would do after scaling a mountain. For one thing, they’d probably be dog tired. So we might imagine the disciples sort of sitting or lying around, awake, but not really; maybe in a daydream state – eyes open, ears open, but not really all there. Luke suggests as much  when he records that in the very middle of this episode, “…..Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw (Jesus’) glory and the two men who stood with him.” Perhaps the disciples were caught up in a half-dream state stuck in that slow-motion realm of dreams when the lion chasing us moves at high speed while  we can’t seem to muster the energy to put one foot in front of the other. Or maybe they be- came fully awake only to find themselves caught up in a shining where they saw what no one  else could see. Only of this can we be sure. The whole thing defies explanation – scientific or otherwise.

            Jesus shined….. literally. Mark tells us that “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” As if this wasn’t extraordinary enough, “there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” Nothing normal or scientifically explainable about that. Moses and Elijah had been dead and gone for centuries. Yet as they saw this glorious scene of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah begin to slip away before they had  time to wake up and fully appreciate it, Peter steps up with a bright idea that might keep it going  a spell: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for  Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark adds here as an editorial note that “(Peter) did not know  what to say, for they were terrified.” While his suggestion seemed reasonable, reason could  not be applied to this supernatural event. After Peter voices his opinion on what to do next, God voices His. We’re told that a cloud overshadowed them, and from that cloud thundered a voice:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [You who’ve seen that movie remember the scene  where little Danny Torrence cups his hands over his eyes, not able to bear a terrifying vision.]  The disciples, like terrified children in that moment, remove their hands from over their eyes only  to find Jesus standing there alone, looking quite normal. We don’t know how much longer they  remained at that place. But as they eventually descend from the mountain and what they’d just  experienced, Jesus “ordered” them to keep this to themselves until after He had risen from the  dead. Pretty good counsel since such a wild story would surely have been met with skepticism.

            I think in this shining experience, there were three lessons learned by the disciples; three lessons we can take away as well. First, there are things in the realm of the spiritual that simply  can’t be explained by science, or controlled by human agency. We can attach labels like paranormal, supernatural, miraculous to events and experiences that defy reason. We can attempt to  tether these things to the world and try to make them go on forever, much as Peter did in suggesting three tents for the mountaintop guests. But when God reveals God’s self through super- natural agency – miraculous healings, divine visions, unexplainable interventions – it is according  to God’s plan, God’s will, God’s timing, not ours.

            The second follows the first. There are revelations of God which are general in nature; ie. available to any and all: the beauty of God’s created order; the intricacy of the human body; the purity and innocence of a little baby; God’s word as recorded in Holy Scripture. And there are  revelations of God which are special in nature; granted at specific times, in specific places, to  specific persons, for God’s specific purposes. Many of you have been kind to share with me  special revelations or epiphanies you have experienced which were intensely personal and defied  all reason, even to the extent that you’ve been afraid to share these things for fear of being disbelieved, or even thought to be crazy. Could that be part of the reason Jesus ordered the three  disciples to keep their mouths shut until after the resurrection – that ultimate revelation of God’s  supernatural power?

            Third, where everything in this world comes and goes, Christ remains. Givers of the Law, such as the highly revered Moses, are with us for a time and a purpose. Prophets of the Lord, such as the highly esteemed Elijah, are with us for a time and a purpose. Preachers, and theologians, and scholars, and teachers are with us for a time and a purpose. And their work and influence continue to touch and affect us profoundly, especially in their important roles of pointing above and  beyond themselves to someone and something greater. But it is of Jesus alone that the very  voice of God proclaims from the heavens: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” After rubbing our eyes of slumber and disbelief, upon opening them, Jesus continues to stand, and  Jesus continues to shine. Where all else is fleeting and transient, Jesus is constant and abiding.

 

            We stand this day upon the front steps of the season of Lent, during which we are called to  reexamine our spiritual lives, confess our shortcomings, and prepare to receive God’s ultimate  revelation in the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps the transfiguration  story provides us three pillars upon which to erect our Lenten preparations: in the realm of the spiritual, God can be neither scientifically explained nor humanly controlled; God often reveals  God’s self in ways which are intensely personal and supernatural; God ultimately and without  equal manifests God’s glory, God’s shining, in and through Jesus Christ.