“Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.” Luke 9:34
On Sunday, many observed the Feast of the Transfiguration, when we remember three disciples seeing Jesus’ appearance change before their eyes – and then saw Moses and Elijah talking to him. It is a spectacular, attention-grabbing vision.
But I confess, when I consider that event this year, I am more focused on the cloud that enveloped them next. Perhaps it’s because of the summer we’re experiencing. Sometimes we don’t like clouds because they block the sun and bring rain – other times we long for them because they block the sun and bring rain.
Clouds are fascinating. If you’ve ever been in a cloud – or a thick fog, which is just a low hanging cloud – you know they have a strange quality. You can see and feel them, and yet not really. They seem solid and transparent at the same time. They block your views of distant things, but tend to really focus your attention on what is nearby.
Clouds float between earth and sky, connecting the two. They are halfway between water and air.
Clouds happen when water seems to defy gravity! I looked it up – the average cloud weighs about the same as a passenger airplane. Water on the earth’s surface warms up and evaporates as vapor, as it travels the tiny particles cool and condense into a cloud that we can see. And then, the water from the cloud can come back to us as rain or snow.
The life cycle of a cloud is a visual way to think about communication between God and humankind. Think about us here on earth with all of our joys and sorrows, longings and fears, gatherings and scatterings rising up to God. And think about God raining steadfast love and guidance to us.
Our relationship with God exists in a way that is like a cloud – it touches us and you can see its effects – but at the same time it is nebulous and hard to put your finger on.
Clouds keep things livable on earth. They help water move around the planet to places that might not otherwise get it. They help us see and prepare for changes in weather patterns, protecting us from danger.
And our relationship with God is like that, too. The cloud of our communication with our Creator helps love move to places and people that might not otherwise experience it. God helps us see and prepare for the repercussions of the storms we create with our choices and behaviors. God protects us with revelations.
This cloud that surrounds Jesus, Peter, John, and James is not the first holy cloud. There are other key times in the history of God’s people when clouds make important appearances.
A cloud guided the Israelites through the wilderness after they escaped slavery in Egypt.
A cloud surrounded Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments.
After the Flood, God placed a bow in a cloud as a sign of the covenant between God and the earth.
People of faith talk about the encouragement we get from a “cloud of witnesses.” It is a cloud of the faithful who have preceded us and whose example surrounds us like droplets in a fog. example and love.
And in this moment, Jesus and three of his disciples are enveloped in a cloud at a particularly holy moment. This cloud doesn’t just surround them, it speaks to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him!”
What an intense experience of God!
In this moment, the three followers of Jesus are reminded of the connection between Jesus and the Covenant that had bound God and Israel. Not only in the person of Moses who articulated that covenant to their ancestors, but also with Elijah who held generations accountable to that Covenant.
And not only to Moses and Elijah, but now to Jesus, as well.
And as if it were not enough to see what they see, they are then enclosed in a cloud. Like the clouds that guided and protected their ancestors.
This moment is not isolated – it is part of the continuing story of God’s relationship with us, amplified in Jesus Christ. The ancestors, the cloud – it is all reminiscent of things these disciples celebrated all year long every year in festivals and holy days, at the Temple and in their homes. This is not an isolated strange event on a mountain. Jesus is part of the long story of salvation and will carry that story forward.
God meets us in clouds, even today. I think about that when I see steam rising from a puddle in the summer heat. Or as a low cloud forms when the warm water of Lake Austin touches cooler air in winter.
Sometimes we get to see the way earth and water mingle with air and spirit and it reminds us that God is ever near, that God is infusing our lives and our world with love all the time.
When we see these images of clouds — low and high, shading us or raining on us — it’s a reminder of the other times God has communicated with us and reminded us that we are connected.
It is in a cloud that Peter and James and John got the clearest vision of who Jesus is. All the other stimuli around them – the sky, the mountain – all of it was obscured from view and all they saw was Jesus. All they heard was God’s voice.
We are often in clouds –
Clouds of worry and confusion
Clouds that keep us from seeing as far ahead as we’d like
Goodness – our whole lives are saved and retrieved in information clouds!
When you are in a cloud consider that God may be meeting you there. Consider that the cloud you are in may not be cutting you off from life, but rather connecting you to the Source of Life. Eventually, like the disciples, you will come out of the cloud, but what you encounter there can stay with you and transfigure your life.