Matthew 17:1-9 Transfiguration of Our Lord.
It is good for us to be here.
Peter’s words, spoken on the top of the mountain that day; they are our words today as well. It is good for us to be here.
To be honest, however, I’m not sure what Peter meant when he spoke those words. Was it good – for the church - that they be there because they had witnessed this transfiguration of Jesus – and three witnesses are better than one?
Was it good – for them - that they be there because it set the three of them, Peter, James and John apart from the other disciples and gave them special insight, even authority in the church? After all, aren’t these the same disciples who argued over which one was greater?
Or, was it good that they be there because now, Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divinity had been divinely, mystically affirmed?
The truth is, the disciples’ witness of the Transfiguration of Jesus wasn’t for their own benefit, or even for their “now,” rather, it was for what was to come. Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will no longer with them, following events that will confound, frighten and even paralyze them. They need to know, believe and trust, as do we, who Jesus is, and Jesus is preparing them to lead the church confidently, knowing exactly who he is.
It was not long before this, as the disciples and Jesus were hanging out in Caesarea Philippi, where they were surrounded by pagan temples and idols, that Jesus asked his disciples the question, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter had made the bold confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
That had been a watershed moment; An exciting moment; an exhilarating moment. And Peter had been rewarded by Jesus’ confirmation that this was not only true but that God himself had blessed Simon Peter, with this knowledge. This simple fisherman-turned-disciple, who would now be simply called, ‘Peter.’
And yet, in the days that had followed, Peter’s confession, the high exhilaration of knowing that they were in the presence of the Messiah, had given way to frustration and devastation, confusion and darkness as Jesus began making predictions of his coming passion and death. Peter had been so disturbed by Jesus’ predictions that he had tried to shush Jesus, earning himself a harsh rebuke from Our Lord.
And now, six days later, six being the number considered necessary to prepare for a holy event in Israel, when Jesus leads these three disciples up the mountain. And there they witness just such a holy event when Jesus is transfigured before them. The divine confirmation and full knowledge of Jesus’ deity is made complete.
What happened on that mountain was not a simple visual transformation, where Jesus’ appearance was altered or morphed into something else. We are very familiar with that kind of transformation thanks to the assistance of computer-generated imaging so popular in the entertainment world these days. And Jesus didn’t turn into something or someone else and then turn back to himself.
Rather, Jesus himself took on a brilliant luminescence unlike anything we might imagine. Transfiguration is defined as a complete change in form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John that day, his appearance changed in such a way that they recognized their Lord, and in that moment fully comprehended his heavenly glory. It is the only time in his earthly career the Jesus’ dignity and deity were made gloriously – even spectacularly clear. They could not doubt for a moment exactly who Jesus was.
And then he was joined by Moses and Elijah – the two historic and religious figures of Judaism who represented the law and the prophets. Jesus already said he did not come to abolish the importance of their witness of God’s majesty, but whose message and work he has come to fulfill. As the Son of God, his Word has authority to interpret what Moses and Elijah have brought and done for the people of Israel.
Lord, it is good for us to be here.
What follows is what makes it especially good for us to be here today, to hear the divine words that were spoken on that mountain that day.
The disciples were overwhelmed at what was happening and what they were hearing on the mountain. And in our world and in our lives today, so often, we, too, are overwhelmed.
But as Jesus literally shines and glows before them, God’s voice is heard, declaring God’s verdict on Jesus’ identity. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” And finally, the first of three instructions coming to us from this gospel text today: Listen to him. Listen to Jesus, who is God’s Word incarnate. And God has much to say.
You see, despite what some might say, God is not silent in our world. God is not silent in our pain. God is not silent in the face of injustice. God is not silent in the face of our confusion, our doubt, our questioning. God is not silent in the face of evil. God is not silent in the face of sin.
The fact is, God talks quite a lot! If only we have ears to listen. God invites us to listen now, to the Word of God present, speaking, teaching and living in Jesus Christ. Listen to Him God commands. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Now, listen to him!
God speaks to us first and foremost in Jesus. God has given Jesus the authority to speak and to teach, to heal and forgive. As God once communicated and worked through Moses, ultimately blessing the people with life-giving law, and then spoke and worked through Elijah and the prophets, both warning of judgment and passing along God’s promises, God now speaks through His incarnated Word, making it possible for us to know God’s grace and mercy.
Lord, it is good to be here.
We gather today to hear God’s Word and to learn from and with one another how God is active in our lives. We gather to discern what God is calling us to as a community of Christ, dedicated to listening to, hearing and then following God’s will. Jesus comes to us through the Holy Spirit and helps us as we listen to the scriptures, as we observe what Jesus says and does, as we notice those to whom Jesus reaches out, pays attention, and gives a healing, helping hand. Lord, it is good to be here.
Next thing in today’s text, when the disciples were overcome with fear from the luminescent experience of the divine, what did Jesus do? He touched them. He said to them, “get up.” Only, the word used here is not just “get up,” but instead is the same word the angels use at the empty tomb on Easter morning: “He is not here; he has been raised!” (28:6)
Jesus touches his quaking disciples and tells them to “be raised up.” To be resurrected, even. And God has given Jesus the authority to make this happen. The good news for us is that even when we feel overwhelmed by the chaos in the world, and the challenge of the task before us, Jesus touches us; Jesus tells us, “be raised up.” Listen to him.
Today we might hear Jesus’ words as a call to action that energizes us, gives us the will to act and to make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve. Listening to Jesus gives us the ability to be about the works of mercy and kindness, compassion and love to which God always calls us. Lord, it is good for us to be here.
Finally, Jesus delivers a promise when he says to the disciples, “Do not be afraid.” How often have we heard those words in the stories from the bible, usually at times when only an insane person would not be afraid? And yet here is Jesus, shown in his glory upon that mountain, yet already having presented a picture of his future passion, death, and resurrection, and he says to his disciples, to us, “do not be afraid”.
We haven’t seen this heavenly, overwhelming, confusing vision, but there are many things of which we are afraid. The things that frighten us might be things like terrorism, the threat of nuclear attack, the threat or reality of illness and disease, the potentially diminishing future for our children, the devastating effects of global warming, and unexpected death – the list seems inexhaustible. You can make up your own list. And yet, into this, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.”
The gospel good news for us today is that God is God of the past, the present and the future. For this reason alone we need not be afraid. Despite the problems, hardship and suffering that are part of human life, despite our own brokenness and the tension in our world, Jesus invites us to trust God to be God, always present and always speaking into our world for our individual and communal good. And God says, Listen to him.
We gather here this morning to remember and rejoice that God is always with us. We come to hear God’s Word. God did not create us for fear and death but for life in his name, sending Jesus and granting him full authority over our lives so that we might learn to move forward with courage and confidence, even in uncertain times.
Listen. Be raised up. Do not be afraid. Jesus delivers these words then starts down the mountain. The brilliance of Jesus’ Transfiguration glory balances the suffering and devastation of the Cross to come, as he sets his face toward Jerusalem.
The reflected light and Epiphany revelation are over. The work of Lent begins this week as we, too, set our faces toward Jerusalem. Glory be to God for this Transfiguration and the promise inherent in God’s definitive declaration, This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to Him!
Let us Listen, may we be raised up, and may we not be afraid, for the glorious Word of God is with us.