On the Mountaintop – February 11, 2018, Transfiguration
Exodus 34:29-35, Mark 9:2-13
February 11, 2018
“We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” Those are the words of C. S. Lewis. He said, “Neither this belief, nor any other, will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.”
Isn’t that true? That’s why we talk about things the way we do. That’s why we revisit the important things in our faith. That’s why we tell the stories every year. “We need to be continually reminded of what we believe.” Well, I know I do!
So, we’ve been looking again at the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. We’ve talked about his baptism, and we’ve renewed our own baptismal vows. We’ve talked about how Jesus chose his disciples – just like a rabbi would! We’ve seen him starting to “teach” – like a rabbi – only with a “new authority.” We’ve told the stories of his healing power, remembering that “Jesus is who he said he is by what he does.” We’ve been remembering and reconfirming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior.
Now, in this story, we’re hearing it from God himself. And it’s the second time! The first time was at Jesus’ baptism. Remember, as he came up out of the water, the spirit descended on him like a dove, and the voice of God was heard. “This is my beloved Son…”
This time, the voice of God is heard in the context of a good, old-fashioned, Old Testament style “Theophany.” That word “Theophany” simply means “An appearance of God.” And appearances of God, in the Old Testament, were rarely “subtle.”
In the one story, when Elijah heard the “still, small voice” of God on the mountain, he wasn’t expecting that way! Do you remember? He was expecting God’s voice in the earthquake, the wind, and the fire. Because that’s what the people were used to. They were used to the story from Exodus 19 which we read today. By the way, there are hints of that “earthquake, wind, and fire” in our last hymn for today. Listen for it!
That’s what Elijah was expecting. He was expecting the voice of God in the “thunders, and lightnings, and the thick cloud.” He was expecting the great “trumpet blast,” at which all the people of Israel trembled! He was expecting a show of the awesome power of God! Instead, he heard the “still, small voice.”
I’m sure he knew the story we read today. I’m sure he knew of that appearance of God on the mountain. I’m sure he knew of the “fear of the Lord” in that “theophany.” And when we say “the fear of the Lord,” we often define that as “awesome respect.” But in Exodus there was actual fear. God told Moses not to let the people come near, or even “gaze” at God, “lest they perish.”
That’s not a very popular view of God, is it? “God is loving.” “God is gentle with his people.” Why would God, “Break out against them,” as it says here? Why would God “break out against” anybody – especially the people he loves! But that fearsome power was often associated with the appearance of God.
I say all of that, because, as I said earlier, this story for today is a “Theophany.” And I want you to think about the awesome power of God portrayed in this “Transfiguration” of Jesus. I’d like to “tweak” your mental image of this one. This was not just a matter of Jesus “takin’ the boys up on the mountain,” and then “gettin’ all shiny.” There was a fearsome quality to this scene!
Take a look at this story. Jesus is “transfigured” before them. He becomes brilliant in appearance. Then there appears Moses and Elijah! And the only one who speaks is Peter. “Master,” he said “it is well we are here. Let us make three booths, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” First of all, what does he mean by “booths?” I think the best way to understand that is to think in terms of three “shrines.” A Shrine is a physical reminder of some event.
That’s what Peter suggests here. But we must also recognize the bizarre nature of that statement! It seems so out of place. It seems so incongruous with what is happening. Jesus himself doesn’t even acknowledge that he said it!
Matthew and Luke also give us those words. “Lord, it is well we are here! Let us make three booths…” But I like Mark’s version, because he adds, “for he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.” Mark is the only one who tells us that. Luke tells us that Peter said that “…not knowing what he said.” Matthew just gives us the statement. “Let us make booths.” But Mark tells us of the fear, the terror, of this moment. Mark tells of the awesome and fearful nature of this “theophany!” And I think that’s so important to this story!
Then, there is the voice of God. Once again God says, “This is my beloved Son…” And then – immediately (as Mark loves to say) – immediately, nothing! The disciples look around, and it’s just Jesus. And I believe they came away with a new understanding of Jesus. At the very least, they were reminded of what they believed about him. And so are we.
That’s what we are remembering today. That’s what we are being reminded of! It’s not just that “Jesus is who he says he is because of what he does,” but because of the very voice of God! We are being continually reminded of what we believe about him. C. S. Lewis and I need that. I’m betting you do to!
And so we come to the table of our Lord. And we bring with us all of those reminders, so we know what we believe about Jesus, and about what he did for us. And these elements remind us of all of that, too! Jesus said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord’s death, until he comes again.” You show forth the Lord’s death to the world, and to yourself… as a reminder of what you believe.
So come, that this “will remain alive in your mind.” That you will feel God’s presence here. That you will hear his still, small voice. That here your beliefs and your souls will be fed!
Eternal God, help us to hear the still, small voice of your spirit. Help us to remember in this communion, who Jesus is, and what he’s done for us. Help us to follow him more closely, knowing that he is your Son. For we pray in his name, Amen.