Last Sunday after the Epiphany, year C
February 27, 2022
This is a strange story, the transfiguration.
This story of Jesus praying on the mountain,
with the disciples Peter, James, and John onlooking; it is a mystery.
We cannot comprehend all that took place—
the old prophets appearing, Jesus’ face changing,
the disciples somehow weighed down…
we do not know what to say in response to all of this.
How can this be so?
The gospels tell us not even Peter knew what to say,
which is why he asked such a dumb question about building some dwellings. “for the disciples were terrified.”
We read the story of the Transfiguration
at the culmination of the season of epiphany—
because the word epiphany means “reveal.”
It is here on the mountain that God definitively reveals Jesus to his disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We read this story just before Lent because we are at a turning point.
On one side of the mountain, we’ve heard the stories of Jesus’ birth,
his ministry—his healing and teaching,
his LIBerAting interpretation of the Law.
On the other side of the mountain, we’ll descend
and walk with Jesus toward the cross.
This is the story that leads us into Lent.
Before we go there, however, we might allow our minds just a moment to think:
what do we make of the appearance of Elijah and Moses –
to wonder about this mountaintop experience…
It is often on a mountain top, where we can get some perspective—
we pause to see the view before us.
On a clear day we can see miles away,
farther than we are used to being able to see.
Rob and I love to walk to the cross at Sewanee—
a war memorial cross that stands 40/50 feet high
overlooking the green farming valley below.
A mountaintop view beckons you to stop, perhaps breathe a little deeper, and survey life for just a bit.
Once Rob and I climbed to the top of Mount LeConte.
We climbed 6,500 ft up, on a mostly sunny day
and found ourselves in the clouds up there on the mountaintop.
We were Sorely disappointed not to have an overlook
to see out over the Smoky Mountains—
yet, we could at least reflect that we’ve come a long way.
Allowing ourselves time to gain Perspective is healing.
On that mountaintop so long ago, Elijah and Moses appeared to Jesus.
Why these two men?
Maybe it helps us recall that Elijah was once fleeing from authorities
when he heard a still small voice.
God was calling him to return to his work.
Elijah symbolizes that God can be found in the midst of angst
if we’ll be quiet and listen.
Elijah also, for the Jewish people, symbolizes the end times.
He is the one who will usher in the Messiah.
Why Moses? Well, many reasons—but we immediately recall Moses’
own extraordinary mountaintop experience which he spent talking with God.
When he came down the mountain back to the people,
his face was shining.
Moses was glowing with the divine word, bringing the law of God to the people. It’s ironic that the people were afraid to look upon Moses,
who himself long ago had hid in fear from a radiant God, in the burning bush.
Moses is the one who led the people out of their bondage in Egypt.
Moses is the channel between God and the Hebrew people.
In Moses appearing on the mountain,
it seems God is bestowing Moses’ legacy on Jesus.
On this mountain of transfiguration,
Elijah and Moses appear in glory, and Luke tells us
they speak to Jesus about his departure
which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
His departure, his exit, his death.
As hearers of the gospel, we begin to glimpse
that God’s glory and Jesus’ death are intertwined—by God’s choice.
It is a strange glory.
It is a glory shining so brightly that it unnerves and confuses the disciples.
Perhaps that is what holy ground feels like:
exciting to be a part of it and scarily disconcerting.
We go to the mountaintop not to escape our troubles or fears,
we go to get some perspective.
To see that God’s glory is achieved in a wholly different way
than we may have imagined. As it was for Elijah—he was assumed into heaven on a cloud. As it was for Moses, he stood atop Mount Nebo overlooking the promised land, and never made it there himself.
As it will be for Jesus.
From the mountaintop we can see that our life journeys,
through joyful times…..through troubled waters,
our journeys shape us into who we are,
but we are not formed in a void.
We are not alone in this journey.
God’s living presence in our lives, molds us
as much as the experiences themselves.
In relationship with God, we become people full of strength and courage.
Paul’s argument in second Corinthians is convoluted
and truthfully problematic,
But he does help us to see this point:
he is explaining the relationship between the law and the people…telling the Corinthians that when they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! Paul wants us to recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, we recognize our way of thinking about God is obsolete… when we put Nothing between us and God….we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives, slowly becoming divine ourselves. (adapted from The Message)
We don’t come to church to become better people.
Transfiguration is not about us achieving personal improvement—
as if you need me to tell you to eat and drink in moderation
or need me to lecture you to share your wealth. You don’t.
You don’t come to hear that war,
killing people to gain land or glory is ungodly.
Our senses know this instinctively.
Our hearts and God’s break with each loss of life,
with the breaking apart of families, and with the hatred and hunger war sows.
You come to church, I hope, to grow closer to God.
My friend Becca Stevens teaches that
in our turning our lives toward God our creator,
in coming to God openly and honestly, we are
“slowly trusting that deep within us,
lies the same love that was woven into creation.”
We are made of stardust and love.
There is no doubt that God’s story is mysterious and miraculous.
And marvelous–Divine love itself transforms us in ways we would never imagine having the strength to do.
It is a strange glory, a strange story,
a story that calls us into an extraordinary relationship,
and one I pray we take time to cultivate our whole lives long.
Thanks be to God.