Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36
February 22, 2015
Transfiguration. That’s the word we use to describe this event. And this is an event so important that it’s included in all four Gospels! Transfiguration is a word that means “transformation” or “metamorphosis.” In simple terminology, it means “change.” Jesus was changed before his disciples. And it had a life-changing effect on them!
It’s my belief that this event came at a time when the disciples really needed it! Jesus knew that, so he took them to the mountain. Because the disciples needed two things. They needed confirmation. They needed to know that Jesus was who he said he was. They needed to know they were following the right guy! And they needed inspiration. They needed a spiritual “shot in the arm.” If you think about it, almost every leader in the Bible received some kind of vision to prepare them to do God’s work. Just think of it. The burning bush, Jeremiah’s vision in the temple. Even the blinding light for Saul on the road to Damascus! Well, this was the disciple’s version of that! So this was very Old Testament type stuff!
That’s the part of this that has really struck me this year. The story of Jesus is a very Jewish story! And as I said at Christmas time, it’s easy to think of the stories in the New Testament as being “Christian” in nature. It’s easy to project our religious understandings back on those times. It’s easy for us to say, as one little girl once said, that “In the Old Testament, God was all judgment and wrath, but in the New Testament, God became a Christian!” And while there may be some truth to that, he did it all in a very Jewish context. Keep that in mind here.
The Biblical context for this story is that this came right after what has come to be known as “Peter’s Confession.” It was the time when Jesus sat his disciples down and asked them the question, “Who do the people say that I am?” And remember, they didn’t know! We do! Because we’ve been reading these stories for years. We’ve incorporated them into our lives. But they didn’t know! And we have to resist the temptation to project what we know back onto them.
Now, I think they certainly wondered about who he was! Do you remember what they said when Jesus calmed the storm on the lake? The wind and waves died down, and they said, “Who is this man?” “Who is this man that he can do this?!” They didn’t say, “Oh look what he did! Of course, he’s the Son of God!” “Nice going, Jesus!” “Oh, and thanks for saving our lives!” No. They said, “Who is this man?”
I also have no doubt they suspected who he might be. In fact, I think they suspected many of the things that they said in their answer. “Some say you are John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.” But then Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?” That’s more personal, isn’t it? And that’s the question we all need to answer for ourselves. Not just “What does the world say about Jesus, but what do we say about him?”
Peter says “You are the Messiah!” “You are the one we’ve been waiting for!” That’s been called his “confession.” But then Luke tells about two more things. First, Jesus says immediately, “Yes, Peter, I am. And I must suffer and die.” I don’t think we ever get the gravity of that statement. We just read it as a matter of course. Because we know it. But to those disciples, with their understanding about the Messiah, with their Old Testament mindset, it would have been shocking! And then he says, “And if you’re going to follow me, you have to take up your cross, too!” and “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Again, we understand all that from our belief and doctrine about Jesus. They didn’t!
So, I have to think that, at that moment, they had their doubts! How could this man be their Messiah, if he talked like that? That was a huge problem for them! So Jesus let them “stew about it” – for a week! And Lord only knows what they said to one another that week – literally! And then in our story for today, he took his three closest disciples and went to the mountaintop. And there they got their confirmation and their inspiration!
We need those two things, too, don’t we? Because we are called to be committed to those things we’ve been talking about. We are committed to follow, and we need to know we are following the right guy. We are committed to service, and we need to know that’s what Jesus’ kingdom is about. We are committed to love – that higher love we talked about last week. And one more thing we are called to be committed to. We are committed being changed. Like Jesus was changed on the mountaintop, we too are being changed. And Paul tells how we are being changed. In II Corinthians 3:18 he says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another!”
We’re about to enter the season of Lent, and as we do, we need to think about these things. We need to think about who Jesus is. We need to have that confirmation, like the disciples did that day. And we can’t assume we know any more than we can assume they knew! We need to be sure about what we know! And we need that inspiration. Because sometimes our lives do get routine and mundane. And sometimes our faith gets “stale.” Sometimes we even begin to doubt it’s power in our lives. Sometimes, like the disciples, we too need that “spiritual shot in the arm!” Don’t we?
So we look to Jesus. We remember him Transfigured on the mountaintop. We remember him talking with Moses and Elijah about his “departure in Jerusalem.” And with that perspective – the New Testament perspective – we share this sacrament, which represents his “departure in Jerusalem” – that is, his death and resurrection! Jesus said “Do this remembering me.”
So, let us seek his presence. Let us strive to feel his touch and his spirit here in this, his holy communion. Let us imagine the disciples in the upper room, having their Old Testament understanding of things changed to the New. And let us be open to the ways he will change us.
Eternal God, as we come to this sacrament, help us to know your love by which you sent your only son Jesus. Give us the confirmation and the inspiration we need to be his disciples, too. Help us to grow in our knowledge of you as we are conformed to the image of your son, for we pray in his name, Amen.