MESSAGE: Last Sunday After Epiphany – Transfiguration – 27 February 2022
THEMES: Mountaintop experiences
“Mountaintop experiences”—it’s the phrase we use to describe those ultimate highs in life.
In today’s passages, Moses encounters God on Mount Sinai and the disciples view Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountaintop.
Both experiences offer glimpses of the awesome power and mystery of God’s presence.
Yet the reality of mountaintop experiences is that we don’t live there—at some point, we have to come down.
How do we sustain a mountaintop experience of God in everyday life?
How do we find God’s presence each and every day?
The psalmist suggests continual worship and praise, here as Paul encourages us to live and serve with faithfulness and integrity, for our ability to do so comes from God.
“We celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory “before the passion” so that we may ‘be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness.’
The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ”.
From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.”
Eight days after Jesus asking “Who do crowds say that I am?” and disciples saying John the Baptist, Elijah, or another ancient prophet. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. Then Jesus warns of the rejection, death, and resurrection that is to come.
“Take up your cross and follow me”
No Peter denying this and no “get behind me Satan”
Immediately before another warning about arrest and Jesus “determined to go to Jerusalem.”
Transition between Galilean ministry and journey to Jerusalem and Passion.
This Sunday is the transition between birth and Epiphany stories and Lent.
One of the noteworthy aspects of verses 28-36 is that they are embedded in prayer.
In the very moment that Jesus is praying, the appearance of both his face and clothing changes.
Luke frequently centres epiphanies of Jesus’ connection with God in prayer.
Prayer, communion with God, is very often associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life, beginning with baptism. It is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit that empowers Jesus for healing, for the calling of the Twelve, for enduring the temptations, and for speaking truth.
That same brilliant spirit of God shines on and in Jesus and Moses and Elijah as they gather to speak of Jesus’ coming exodus (verse 31).
All of Scripture (The Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah respectively) is enlisted as pointing to the future passage through death to glory of God’s anointed one. God’s own faithfulness is borne out in the trustworthiness of Scripture (Luke 24:27), witnessing as it does to the suffering of the Messiah that precedes his glory.
Another important aspect of Luke’s story is the number of terms having to do with looking and seeing (or the opposite).
Eyewitnesses were vital to the handing on of Jesus’ story in a reliable way (see also Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21-22). Because “glory” is a visible aspect of God’s holiness and majesty, eyewitnesses were vital to handing on this experience of Jesus’ tangible glory, a glory puzzling and yet hope-giving.
The passage turns on seeing the appearance of Jesus’ face, the gleaming clothing, the call to “behold,” the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the “seeing” of Jesus’ glory and the two men (verse 32), the visible cloud which once protected Israel from the sight of God or from the sound of God’s voice (Exodus 20: 18-21, 24:15-18, 34:29-35) and now shielded Peter, James, and John from seeing God. This is a passage where seeing is very important but needs the support of God’s voice to bring even limited understanding to the three followers. It might be noted that human voices, even as Peter, for example, tries to interpret what is happening before his eyes according to Scripture, are not able to articulate what has happened. When the men come down the mountain, they keep silent, telling no one what they had seen.
The connections with Exodus (and with Elijah) remind hearers/readers that God will deliver God’s people from slavery as often as God must do it. An exodus from under the power of any oppressor has a cost. Jesus must “set his face like a flint” to get to Jerusalem (9:51). The three disciples who will follow that road with him have seen the glory that awaits and find the path to Golgotha deeply confusing. Jesus’ exodus will deliver even from the power of death, not just death-dealing powers-that-be, but death itself. That cannot be clear to Peter, James, and John until it has been accomplished.
One more word: although Peter, James, and John have this awe-some experience, the other nine follow Jesus on his exodus journey without that experience. We are probably, most of us, more like the nine who go along anyway, except that now the experience of hope beyond the difficulties of our journeys is also given to us.
This is a story about transformation which is the hoped for outcome of the Church- the transformation of people into disciples and the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. How many of our churches/church members are aware of this?
A good question to ask is how has the good news changed you (and if it hasn’t-then perhaps we haven’t been sharing the good news)?
An opportunity for celebration- how has your community of faith transformed your local community?
An opportunity for challenge – in what measurable ways will you transform your church and community in the future?
As Lent approaches, the storm clouds of war and conflict are gathering in Russia and the Ukraine as well as in other strife-torn parts of our world. Now is a time in which repentance and turning from sin are needed more than ever.
Please join me in praying this prayer:
God of the nations, whose sovereign rule brings justice and peace, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all and banish from them the spirit that makes for war, that all races and peoples may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to your law, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.