Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon: "The Transfiguration of Christ"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
The Transfiguration of Christ
Last Sunday after the Epiphany - February 10, 2002
I want us to think for just a few minutes of a day, a week or a moment when an experience in our life changed us. I can think of several examples in my life. My very first day of school in the first grade was a life-changing event. I did not want to go and I pitched a fit like only a five year old can pitch a fit. Some other life changing events include the day my grandfather moved into the house; the day I met Ellen, the days my children were born, the day I accepted the call to come to St. Thomas'. These events were life-changing. I began a new path. I saw life in a different way. Life had a new and different meaning with each of these singular events. Each event had an incredible impact on my life. How about you? What are some of the incredible life-changing events in your life? Please be careful. I'm not asking us to judge the event as good or bad. I am asking us to look at events that changed our lives significantly. These events were so important that they drastically affected our outlook and shaped our future.
While we are thinking about these events can we recall some of our feelings? During some of the events we may have been happy or sad. Some of the events may have been really clarifying or maybe confusing. Some of the events may have been wondrous and at the same time scary.
One definite about these events is the fact that after them we are forever changed. Something about the event makes it impossible to live our lives in the same way ever again.
With these moments and feelings in our minds, I would like us to think about Peter, James and John on a mountain with Jesus. This event, The Transfiguration, forever changed these men. They experienced a moment with God that changed them forever. This moment was scary and confusing, wondrous and awesome. For in this moment they had a direct revelation from God. And after this moment they would never be the same.
Most of us see the Transfiguration as a singular moment on the mountain. In actuality it was an event that spanned several days. The Transfiguration was a high point involving several days in the lives of these disciples. We shouldn't be too surprised. The birth of a child is a high point in a nine-month pregnancy. A lot of things happen before the baby is born. Many things will happen after the baby is born. The Transfiguration is a powerful event for the disciples in their walk with Christ.
What are the events leading to the Transfiguration in the lives of the disciples? What happens to them on the mountain? What happens after the event on the mountain? These are the questions we will answer this morning. From the answers we might see why the lives of the disciples were so drastically changed.
The Gospel reading gives us a clue that the Transfiguration is related to some previous event. The reading begins with the words, "Six days later...". Six days earlier Jesus is teaching his disciples. He is attempting to help them see who He is and what is His mission. They are in the area of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is teaching them about his mission. Jesus explains to them that he is going to Jerusalem to die. They already know Jesus is the Messiah. Now, he is telling them the Messiah is going to Jerusalem to die. Jesus is going to be the suffering servant. Three days after he is killed He will be raised again. Peter hears these words, pulls Jesus aside, and then chastises Jesus. Of course Peter is upset. He doesn't understand. He doesn't get it. Jesus really lets him have it. He tells Peter he is being a stumbling block. He calls Peter Satan. He tells Peter his mind is on earthly things. Peter still has the idea that the Messiah is going to be this earthly king with great political, social, and religious power. Even though Peter knows Jesus is the Messiah he does not understand the mission.
The rest of the disciples are pretty much in the same boat. After this episode with Peter, Jesus begins to teach the disciples. He teaches them about the cost of following the Messiah. The cost is giving up the ways of the world and following Christ. Disciples are called to give up power, prestige and control for personal or worldly gain. Disciples are called to live their lives for God. Disciples are called to follow God. When the Son of God comes the disciples will be with God. Discipleship requires commitment.
So, these three episodes, Jesus telling the disciples who He is and His mission, Peter chastising Jesus, and Jesus' teaching about discipleship, are the prelude to the mountaintop event.
Peter, James and John are invited by Jesus to go to the mountain. On the mountain, they see Jesus become brilliant. They see Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together. They are enveloped in a bright cloud. They hear the voice of God. The voice of God tells them to listen to Jesus. They are to listen to God's Son, the Beloved. On the mountain, these three disciples experience a theophany. A theophany is a physical appearance of God to a person or persons. They have an incredible experience with God.
Many times I have heard people ask God for a sign. I myself have asked God for a sign. Please, God, just tell me what you want me to do. Show me what you want and I will go and do it. Well, these three disciples got a sign. This sign confirms everything they suspect about Jesus. This sign confirms everything Jesus has told them. Now, they know Jesus is the Messiah. Now, they know Jesus has a mission. This mission is greater than any concept of the Messiah they have had in their mind. Jesus is not concerned with earthly visions of the Messiah because He is the Son of God. God's purpose is to bring salvation to all of creation. The idea of a Messiah who is simply an earthly king, priest and warrior is inconceivable. These disciples see Jesus in all of his glory. They see a foretaste of the divine presence of Christ when the kingdom of God is fulfilled.
After the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John find themselves alone with Jesus. They have been awed. They have been confused. They have been afraid. Now, they are alone with Christ. His words are words of comfort and instruction. They are told to stand up and not be afraid. The first words are words of comfort. Then they are told not to tell anyone what they have seen until after the resurrection. They have to wait. The fulfillment of the mission is not here on the mountain. The fulfillment of the mission is in Jerusalem. So, the journey for the disciples continues. They walk with Christ. They eat with Christ. They are taught by Christ. They will be taught by Christ in the Garden of Gethesemanee, in the Upper Room, at the trial, as he carries the cross, and when He is resurrected.
We follow in the tradition of these disciples. We have our moments with God. We have our times when God is clear to us about the path. We have our moments when we see and feel the glory of God surround us. Every Sunday we are invited by God to come to God's table. We are invited by God to partake of the heavenly banquet. We are called to come forward like Peter, James and John to be in the presence of Christ. Perhaps when we come to this table we have an opportunity for a theophany. Perhaps God is inviting us in order to help us see the identity of Christ more clearly. Perhaps God is calling us to help us experience the miracle of the cross and the resurrection more deeply. Whatever the result there is one thing of which we can be assured. God always calls us to join in the journey. God calls us to come.