Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matt 17:1-9 The Rev. Linda Spiers
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A – February 23, 2020
Fredrick Buechner has an interesting reflection on the Transfiguration. He says:
“It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they’d tramped many a dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they’d seen as hungry, tired, footsore as the rest of them. But it was also the Messiah, the Christ, in his glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded.
Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.”
Just before today’s Gospel story, Jesus had just inquired of his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? … But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:13-16). Then Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah and revealed to the disciples that he was to go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Six days later Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain by themselves. The disciples saw the most amazing thing they had ever seen before their eyes—Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white! Suddenly Jesus was with Moses and Elijah. Peter was so powerfully impacted that he wanted to build three dwellings—one for Jesus, one for Moses (who represents the law), and one for Elijah (who represents the prophets). A metamorphosis occurred right before the eyes of Peter, James and John. Like any mountaintop experience, Peter wanted to make it permanent. Peter wanted to make a “safe sanctuary” far away from what was to happen to Jesus in time.
From a cloud God spoke and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; …listen to him!” If there had been any doubt about who Jesus is, God made it clear. Jesus’ divine identity was made crystal clear. As quickly as Jesus had been transfigured and as instantly as Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, things returned to their normal state. Jesus was now alone with them and said to the overcome disciples, “Get up and do not be afraid.” As they came down the mountain, Jesus again ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt 17:9).
Can you imagine how those early disciples felt? I wonder if you can recall an event in your life when time almost stood still. Was there someone you thought you knew well and suddenly she/he was revealed in a completely new light? Or was there a time when something so magnificent occurred—something that has no words, only a vision of the ordinary that became extraordinary? Some people call them mountaintop experiences. Like Peter we want that moment to last forever. Also like Peter, James and John, we come down from that mountaintop to the reality of our world—our world that is filled with the challenges of ordinary living—suffering friends, health issues, a career that has fallen apart, a child who is ill, a broken relationship, tragic news that makes no sense.
The transfiguration was a decisive point for the disciples. They had left their nets and followed this man Jesus who did extraordinary acts of healing and teaching and challenging the established order. They knew Jesus in the flesh and knew his humanity. Why did they leave everything and follow him? Now these three disciples witnessed Jesus’ divine nature and more deeply understood Peter’s acclimation, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
God said to them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
This story ushers us into Lent. It’s an important story for us to ponder, for we find it in all three synoptic gospels. We hear the story again on August 6 as one of the major Feast Days in our Church—The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we prepare our hearts for Lent, I believe it’s our time to listen!
John Calvin powerfully reflects on God’s ways with these words: “…all thinking of God, apart from Christ, is a bottomless abyss which utterly swallows up all our senses…. In Christ God, so to speak, makes himself little, in order to lower himself to our capacity; and Christ alone calms our consciences that they may dare intimately approach God.”
God in Christ comes to us in the ordinary events of our lives and is present at those moments when we need to hear, “Do not be afraid.” The majesty and wonder of Jesus are beyond our understanding, and yet somehow, we are given those moments when light shines brightly. Our eyes need only to be open and our ears ready to listen with the ear of the heart.
The Good News is that Peter, James and John saw and experienced Jesus’ transfiguration right before their eyes, helping us to see a little more clearly. The season of Lent invites us to work on seeing more clearly and listening more deeply. Remember their story of utter amazement and fear, knowing that you are beloved of God. As you begin the journey through Lent this week, look for ways to tend your eyes and your ears, knowing that Jesus alone calms our consciences.
Let us pray with the words of a hymn by Thomas Troeger:
[God] transfigure our perception
With the purest light that shines,
And recast our life’s intentions
To the shape of Your designs
Till we seek no other glory
Than what lies past Calvary’s hill
And our living and our dying
And our rising
By Your will.” Amen.
- Frederick Buechner, “Transfiguration,” in Whistling in the Dark: A Theological ABC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988).
John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Peter 1:20, quoted in Ford Lewis Battles, “God Was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity,” Interpretation 31, no. 1 (Jan. 1977), 38.