by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Image: “Transfiguration of the Lord” by James Janknegt
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.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
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 inMatthew 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 foolish:
4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
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.
5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised 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. 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. Now 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.’
As Jesus is transfigured before us, and reveals his true identity to us as he did to Peter and James and John, we are aware of three truths:
- Following Jesus and transforming ourselves into the image of God honors ourselves: By stripping off our disguises, by aligning ourselves with the goals and values of Jesus, we let others see the beautiful people we are. We reveal our gifts and our abilities. We reveal our fears and failings. We show others our humanity, our vulnerabilities and our strengths.
- Following Jesus and transforming ourselves into the image of God honors the other: By uncovering our true selves we allow the other person to see who we really are, no costume, no persona, no act or image that hides us. We honor the other when we show them who we are.
- Following Jesus and transforming ourselves into the image of God honors God: By displaying our true self to others, we honor the creation of God. God knows us and loves us. Let us accept one another, loving the blessed creations of God before us.
On this day, let us love one another with our true selves, faults and all. Let us come before God as his creations –imperfect children who are trying to be better, trying to do better, trying to love more honestly and following the example of Christ: let us reveal the love of God through our word, our actions and our example.
- William Loader, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkTransfiguration.htm
- Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke9x28.htm