17 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. 2 There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
3 All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. 4 So Peter said to him, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!” 6 When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground. 7 But Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!” 8 When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.
9 On their way down from the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.
Let’s approach this English-teacher style:
Q: Who are the main characters in this story?
A: Jesus Peter, and the brothers, James and John
Q: Whose idea was it to go up on the mountain?
A: Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John
Q: What is the setting for the story?
A: on a very high mountain
Q: Why did they go up to the mountain?
A: so they could be alone
Q: What happened to Jesus?
A: Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Q: Who joined the group?
A: All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.
Q: What was Peter inspired to do?
A: “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
A: There are no right or wrong answers here. Peter might have wanted to make the moment more permanent. He might have wanted to honor Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Peter was a man of action.
Q: Who interrupted Peter?
Q: What did God say?
A; From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!”
Q: When were these words spoken earlier in Jesus life?
A: At his baptism.
An interesting observation is that the first Sunday in Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ baptism and the last Sunday in Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ transfiguration.
Q: How did the disciples react when they heard God’s voice?
A: When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground.
Q: How did Jesus handle their fear?
A: Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!”
Q: What warning did Jesus give the disciples after he helped them up?
A:Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.
Those are the easy questions. Let’s ask the interesting questions. Here’s a technical one:
Q: Why do you think Moses and Elijah joined them? Why not Isaiah or Adam or Esther or Daniel? Or David and Solomon?
I’ll give you this answer, because I looked it up. It harkens back to the Hebrew Bible. First from Exodus.
Exodus 34: 28 Moses stayed on the mountain with the Lord for forty days and nights, without eating or drinking. And he wrote down the Ten Commandments, the most important part of God’s agreement with his people. 29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments. His face was shining brightly because the Lord had been speaking to him. But Moses did not know at first that his face was shining. 30 When Aaron and the others looked at Moses, they saw that his face was shining, and they were afraid to go near him.
Next, from 2 Kings:
2 Kings 2:11 Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. 12 Elisha saw this and shouted, “Israel’s cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!” After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow.
Moses and Elijah represent the two principal components of the Old Testament: the Law and the Prophets.
Another question: What happened to Jesus on the mountaintop? We call this Transfiguration because Jesus was transfigured, changed in some way. But was Jesus changed or were the disciples changed?
The disciples had never seen Jesus as anything but a typical Galilean, dark-skinned, dressed in a garment made of coarsely spun cloth. In other words, he looked at lot like them. He did not stand out in a crowd unless he was speaking. On the mountaintop, he took on a wholly different appearance: Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Up to now, Jesus had depended on his disciples for companionship, But the time would soon come when his disciples would be on their own. They would not go back to fishing or collecting taxes. They would continue to carry on Jesus’ teachings and more importantly, they would spread the good news of salvation, of a new way of living. By revealing to them his Godliness, Jesus prepared the disciples to be ready to accept and understand his death and resurrection.
The transfiguration is important to the disciples because they learn that Jesus is God. They don’t fully understand until after the resurrection, but this transfiguration of Jesus, this new appearance of the familiar Jesus, is also the beginning of their transfiguration from very ordinary, undistinguished, commonplace laborers to the first followers of a man/God who would change the course of history.
It is important to understand that Jesus himself did not change on the mountaintop. HIs appearance changed. Jesus had always been God, but for most of his life on earth he looked like an ordinary earthly human. The transfiguration was how he looked as God.
Jesus said things like “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” he didn’t mean just this one incident of blazing glory. He meant that divinity had been on display every day of his life. Divinity was on display when he spoke kindly to ostracized women and outcast lepers. Divinity was on display when Jesus wept over a dead friend and when he smiled gently at a misguided yet earnest rich young ruler.
This knowledge that Jesus is both human and God is the catalyst for action, the seed for evangelizing, not because it is a prophecy come true but because it is the difference between every other prophet, every other human claiming to be the Messiah. Prophets, everyone of them, were 100% human. They were in close relationship with God, but they were not God. They could speak with God, they could speak for God, but they were still only human. Jesus is God and thus has the power to conquer what no human can conquer on his or her own: no one can conquer death. Except that because Jesus is both human and God, he could conquer death. He had to be human to die; he had to be God to rise from the dead.
What can we learn about ourselves from Jesus’ transfiguration? We are humans, 100%. But what if, by our words, our actions, our thoughts, we were transfigured in the eyes of those who know us? What if, like Jesus, our love of Jesus was on display to our family members, to our co-workers, to our friends?
What if our love of Jesus made us different, not in size or skin color or clothing? What if that difference was apparent to those who felt safe around us? What if that difference made us more understanding? What if that difference moved us from impatience to forgiveness?
What would people say? Already, I humbly claim that this congregation has experienced a transfiguration that is seen in the community. I claim that we are a transfigured people, not because we stuck it out, not because we called a new pastor, not because we painted the basement. Our appearance in the community is a holy appearance, the manifestation of the mercy and grace given to us by Jesus. Jesus, all human, all God, has shared with us His skill, HIs ability, His love, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabled us to be, to really be Him in the form of our actions..
Somewhere I ran across these words: “Following the way of Jesus is more important than admiring Jesus.”
Sr. Joan Chittister, one of the best-loved authors of our time, puts it this way:
“Religion, you see, does not call us to the rational. Religion calls us to the Beatitudes, to the works of mercy, to the casting out of demons, to the doing of miracles for those in need, to the being and act of irrational love and burning justice of God.That is what the Transfiguration is about, that is what religion is really about, changing ourselves so we can change the world.”
This week, as we approach Lent, I challenge to think about yourself—-not about the person sitting behind your or in front of you, not about me, but about yourself. How will you be transfigured this week, in the middle of your hectic routines, in the middle of unexpected chaos, how will you be transfigured?
What will your best friend or you coworker or you child notice about your appearance? Will you, by following Jesus, be transfigured? Amen.