Today is one of those Church holidays no one has heard of: it is day in the church we set aside to commemorate a biblical event called “The Transfiguration of the Lord.” What does it mean? Literally, to be transfigured means to change one’s appearance, to change our “figure” into another. This event – the Transfiguration of the Lord – is important because in it Jesus reveals his true identity to those disciples in his earthly ministry. It gave Peter and James and John a sneak peek at the revelation to come at Easter: a glimpse of the resurrection.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Why Moses and Elijah? If you were a biblical scholar, you may notice that this story has a lot in common with another story, our story form the book of Exodus: that of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ face shines here like Moses’ did; his garments gleam, as did Moses’. And Jesus is revealed to be something special, as was Moses.
But it is more than a scriptural allusion to the story of Moses, in our gospel lesson, these two important Jewish figures appear by the side of Jesus as a way to connect Jesus with the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah.
Through this vision, Jesus is depicted, not as something completely new, completely different but as the fulfillment of the Jewish history, as he stated in Matthew 5: 17,17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
In this appearance, this revelation of the true identity of Jesus, suddenly he is not just a normal guy, not just a new prophet, not just a miracle worker or a great preacher: all of Jewish history and theology and philosophy, all expectations meet in Jesus. As author William Loader explains, “Heaven and earth meet in him; future and present meet in him, without dissolving the distinction between either. These were very creative ways of making statements about the importance of Jesus in space and time dimensions. …The transfiguration is a celebration of who Jesus is. (1)
So Peter, in his humanness and misunderstanding suggests something kind of silly:
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Peter wanted to hold on to this moment, hold on to the revelation, to the true identity of Christ, and show it to the world. But God had other plans.
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Now the Greek word used here for “Listen” (akouete) is a present imperative, implying continuing action: “Keep on listening to him” or “Continue to listen to him.” (2) LISTEN and continue to listen. This command given by God infers a continuing relationship, for we don’t just listen once to the one we love, but we need to listen again and again and again, throughout our relationship.
But we need to do more than listen. We need to HEAR and understand. As the gospel says in verse 6, the disciples HEARD him. “Hearing” (akouo) requires more than just sounds entering the ears. When we listen and continue to listen, when we hear and understand, then we are compelled to action.
Hear and understand … then GO AND DO! It is vital that after we see the glory of God, after we hear the words and understand their meaning, after we witness who Jesus IS and grasp his identity and his power… what do we do?
We no longer remain on the mountaintop, building booths to hold on to a moment, but we must descend into the valley to do the work of God. Knowing the secret identity of Christ implores us to move forward and to follow his advice and his example. After witnessing the true identity of Jesus, now his mission becomes our mission, his passion our passion, his aims our aims.As he has shone in our lives, so we must shine in the lives of others. As Jesus shines, so we must reflect his glory and love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness to the world.
As we witness the glory of Jesus, we must proclaim our mission, as he did by quoting the book of Isaiah:
8‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
On this day, let us reveal the love of God through our word, our actions and our example. Jesus has done his shining. Now, it’s our turn.
- William Loader, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkTransfiguration.htm
- Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke9x28.htm