We Tremble at the Sight – March 3, 2019

 Image: “Transfiguration” by James Janknegt, 2001

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Today 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. Although the gospel of Luke never says the word “transfigured” like the gospels of Mark and Matthew, the event is important because it revealed the true identity of Jesus to those disciples early 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.

Luke 9: 28

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to 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 silly:

33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.

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.

34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

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. And in the same story in Matthew, the gospel says 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. (to show REAL strength, real bravery, real courage even in the face of defeat…. by helping, showing mercy and compassion, reaching out, by loving others as God loves us…) 

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 power and strength to us, we are aware of this truth: We are powerful, with our Creator God on our team. May his transfiguration reveal to us our strength and our courage to do the work of Christ in his world. Amen.

  1. William Loader, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkTransfiguration.htm
  2. Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke9x28.htm