Exodus 34:29-35, Matthew 17:1-13
February 26, 2017
The year so far: “Recommitment.” “Moving Forward.” “Being like Jesus.” And recently, “Looking to Jesus,” for our strength, and “Loving Like Jesus.” – being the light of the world, as we continue his ministry here on earth.
That brings us to Transfiguration Sunday. And this is one of my favorite stories, by the way. It’s a favorite because it is so underrated. You have Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Pentecost, all the big dramatic world-changing stories in the Bible. But I think too many people think of this one and say, “Big deal!” “So Jesus took his disciples to the mountaintop and he got all shiny!” “What’s the importance of that?”
Well, this again is one of those times that our “mental imagery” needs to be “tweaked.” (Jack Baltzer always liked when I talked about “tweaking.”) And of course part of that “tweaking” has to do with our understanding of the disciples. Let me remind you that these guys were not the statues we see at various religious shrines around the world. They’re not the people we see in artists renderings of Biblical events, complete with the halos around their heads. They’re not the “Saints” of the Church… not yet, anyway!
They were “regular guys.” They were the epitome of the “common man.” They were fishermen – fishermen turned “rabbinical students.” They were often so lost in their understanding of what was going on that they were almost seen as the “comic relief” in these stories. A lot of the time, they “didn’t get it.”
Even in this story they “didn’t get it.” “It is good that we are here, Jesus. Let us make three ‘booths,’ three shrines, for you and Moses and Elijah.” That statement by Peter shows how little they understood at that moment. And it was so “clueless,” that neither Jesus nor God himself even responded to it. It’s like they didn’t hear! Instead, the voice of God said what? “This is my beloved Son!”
So, what is this story? I believe this story was the great confirmation of who Jesus was! And I believe the disciples really needed that! Yes, they were learning. They were growing. They were “Moving forward.” They were challenged and led by Jesus in so many ways. They saw so many amazing and unexpected things. But they were also worried about their master. Jesus was “ruffling” some powerful “feathers!” He was angering the wrong people!
Besides that, I believe also that no matter how far they had come in following Jesus, they still had their doubts. They still had a feeling of “Is this really the Messiah?” So did John the Baptist, if you recall. He sent word to Jesus from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come? Or should we look for another?”
Again, these men were not the saints we know now. This was all new to them, and it was scary! Just like it was scary for the people of Israel when Moses came down from the mountain! And it’s hard for us to go back to that time. It’s hard for us to “unlearn” what we already know and to imagine what it was like for them. But it helps if we try! The Transfiguration wasn’t “This is glorious, Jesus! We’re so glad we are a part of this great moment!” This was “Holy cow! What’s going on here?” “This is terrifying!” Can you imagine if something like that happened to us? I don’t know about you, but I’d be terrified!
So then, the Transfiguration was first and foremost about Jesus confirming that they were following the right person. This was their version of John’s confirmation from Matthew 11. “Go tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk…” This was their version of the whole book of Hebrews, from which we read “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus…” That book was about confirming to that group of Hebrew Christians – in their time of doubt – that they were indeed following the right person.
This is the disciples vision of who Jesus really was! And it was an “unexpected vision!” It was a terrifying vision! But, it also was a spiritual “shot in the arm!” And I’ve always believed it came at a time when they really needed that!
We need that, too. Don’t we? We have our times of doubt. All of us! We have times when we wonder if God is “really there.” We wonder if the people in our world who are trying to downplay the importance of Jesus, might actually be right. We wonder. And I believe this sacrament, among other things, is our “vision” – our “confirmation” – of who Jesus really is! And I hope we can see it that way today. For as often we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do show forth the Lord! And his death – and resurrection – until he comes again!”
So that’s one thing. The other thing about the Transfiguration, again among many things, is that it showed the disciples that Jesus was beyond what they thought about him. And that’s something else we need, too. We all have our image of God. And as you’ve heard me say before, most of the time our images are too small, and too powerless. The disciples learned otherwise on the mountaintop. They knew Jesus as a great teacher, a great rabbi, a great speaker and miracle worker. But God? They needed to know that, too! And so do we!
I think of the words of Isaiah 40. There the prophet is trying to tell the people that their image of God is too small, their assessment of God’s power too weak. “Have you not known?” he asked. “Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth!” He is not small, and weak, and finite, like you. He is all-powerful! He is infinite! He is not the image you make of him. He is way beyond that! He is the image he shows us to be – in all of his creation!
We need that, too, don’t we! Here at this table, the mercy of God is shown in ways we couldn’t have imagined. If we hadn’t already heard it all before, we might not have believed it. Yet, here it is confirmed in us. Here, we are immersed in the love and grace of God – love and Grace that are beyond our comprehension.
That’s what we have here. Here in these modest, humble elements, we have the infinite love of God. As you receive them today, right there in your modest, humble pews, in your modest, humble lives, remember that there is nothing modest or humble about this. This is amazing Grace! This is love immeasurable! As God said to the disciples, “This is my beloved Son!”
So Come. Come to this table, to this meal, to this Grace and love. Come and be filled with all the fullness of God!
Eternal God, with all the saints who have gone before us, we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Help us to set aside all that would keep us from seeing him this day. Grant us the confirmation, the vision, the spiritual shot in the arm that we need, today and every day. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.