|Text: Matthew 17:1-3
Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.
Can you imagine what the reaction would be if the transfiguration of Jesus happened today? Everyone would want to know what went on up there on the mountain. You can imagine a breaking news report on TV going something like this Ė It has been reported that a bright light was seen on the top of Mt Tabor. * Three men who were witnesses to this phenomenon report that they saw their boss, Jesus of Nazareth, talking with Moses and Elijah and that a bright light surrounded them. It is reported that they heard a voice speak to them from a cloud. Letís cross to our man on the spot David ben Koch. Are you there David? Tell us what is happening there.
David ben Koch is standing in the middle of bright camera lights and a whole lot of reporters. There are journalists from "60 minutes" and every TV station and newspaper. They all want to be the first to interview Peter, James and John and beam a "live" on the spot report around the world.
A microphone is shoved under the nose of John and the camera zooms in for a close-up. "Mr Zebedee, may I call you John? Thank you for giving us your time. Please tell us what happened".
Then back in the studio there would be all the experts spinning their theories about what had happened. From physicists to psychiatrists, theologians to astronomers, psychic research buffs and philosophers, mediums, UFO researchers and scientists. It would be immense!
No doubt the curiosity of people in Jesusí time would have been the same. Maybe not the technology and the paparazzi but there would still have been the questions, the expert opinions about what this phenomenon meant, the critics, those who would have said the disciples were delusional or had fallen asleep and had a weird dream and those who would readily admit something happened but werenít ready to say what had happened. After all Moses and Elijah had been dead for centuries and even if they did appear why to this carpenter come self-proclaimed rabbi from Nazareth and not those who were the true faithful Ė the priests and those who regularly worshipped at the temple.
Itís no wonder we hear Jesus say to the disciples as they were coming down the mountain, "Donít tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from death".
This is a very strange event in the life of Jesus. It is retold in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as a reference to it in the second letter of Peter where he wrote, "With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honour and glory by God the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, "This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!" We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain".
Artists have tried to capture the magnificence of that moment when the disciples watched on as a change came over Jesus and his face shone like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appeared and chatted with Jesus but as good as some of these artists might be they have never managed to capture that moment in all its brilliance.
Even if Peter had his digital camera with him, itís one of those moments that a picture doesnít do justice to the view that unfolded before him. You know how it is when you look at your holiday photos and the shot doesnít do justice to the grandeur of a mountain, the depth of a valley below, the brilliant colours in a field of wildflowers. Likewise when Jesus was transfigured and chatted with Moses and Elijah, you had to be there to get the full impact of what happened.
So what does this event mean? Iím no artist but if I were to paint a picture of the transfiguration I know it would be impossible to capture the awe-inspiring nature of the event. There are no colours brilliant enough on my palette or images in my mind that I could use as a template to get across what happened. Any painting would end up looking like three men standing on a hill Ė the transfiguration is far greater than that.
This is an out of this world experience. The disciples knew Jesus as the man from Galilee who grew up in Nazareth, whose mother and father were Mary and Joseph, who felt hunger and thirst and pain in the same way they did, but on that mountain they caught a glimpse of Jesus in heaven talking with two famous men from the past. The disciples were given a small look into the divine nature of Jesus Ė that he is God; that he is someone who has come to earth from the place where the faithful, like Moses and Elijah, now live; that he has knowledge of what will happen in the very near future.
That brings me back to my painting of the transfiguration. What I would want to convey is something of the meaning of this event. So somewhere not too far behind those gathered on the Mount of Transfiguration I would have another mountain with Jesus and two other figures only this time they are on crosses. On the faces of those who have gathered and are looking at the cross of Jesus there is anguish, despair and hopelessness etched into their faces.
However, some of the crowd around the cross are looking beyond the cross to the transfiguration scene. There is a hint of a slight smile of relief and understanding on their faces. It would seem that they are seeing the horrors of Good Friday in the light of the transfiguration. They realise that there is something far greater happening here than a man dying on a cross. They remember the conversation that Jesus had with Moses and Elijah and how they had talked about this very moment when God's plan of salvation would reach its finale. They remember how they saw Jesus in a different light on the mountain top Ė as God walking this earth and showing love and compassion to all whom he encountered and now God was nailed to a cross for every sinful human.
On the Mount of Transfiguration,
God the Father speaks from the cloud and claims Jesus as his beloved Son. On
that other mountain Jesus takes on our filth and sin and death and becomes our
brother. In the midst of all the pain and blood and the feeling of abandonment
by his heavenly Father Jesus could look back to the Mount of Transfiguration and
remember the voice "This is my own dear Son with whom I am pleased".
He was not alone.
He is still loved.
He could remember the Moses and Elijah encouraging him and reminding him that he was fulfilling God's purpose by dying in Jerusalem. As unpleasant as it was he was doing his Fatherís will.
Can you imagine what Peter and his
friends thought and felt after this amazing experience of seeing Moses and
Elijah come back from the dead? Of course, add to that their experience of the
resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They had experienced the power and majesty
God's power and grace were impressed on Peter, and his life was filled with a radiance that enabled people to see Jesus in him as he carried the gospel to others.
It filled him with a radiance that enabled people to see that Jesus was someone special and highly valued in the life of Peter.
And because of that radiance he was able to do great things for his Lord.
In those moments when he was being persecuted and suffered at the hands of those who wanted to erase the name of Jesus forever from the face of the earth and in the end killed him for his faith, he too must have looked back on that mountaintop experience as well as to Calvary and was comforted and strengthened by the fact that he too was fulfilling God's plan of salvation and was serving the one true God revealed in his Son Jesus.
This gospel reading brings the season of epiphany to a close. We started with the wisemen following the light of a star and end with the brilliant light radiating from Jesus on a mountaintop. This is an epiphany event showing us who Jesus really is Ė the man from Nazareth and God who has power over sin and death. It is the brilliance of Christ that enables us to see God's grace in the severest of circumstances. When we are despairing and filled with doubt, the radiance of Christ in us is not extinguished. It might seem like that some times, but all the time he is with us along the way, guiding us when we wonder what we should do next, holding us up when we stumble, picking us up when we fall, leading us when we cannot see our way ahead.
God still favours us, his people today, with moments of transfiguration. We too are given "mountaintop" experiences where we can experience the grace and the glory of God at work in our lives. And we find ourselves altered by these great events of life and filled with a radiance that enables us to look confidently into the future, even if that future contains pain and death.
It leads others to see the brilliance of Christ through us and encourages them and comforts them or at least they might be led to ask the question, "What is it that enables you to have so much hope and to be so positive in the face of so much trouble?"
After encountering God's Word and experience the grace and glory of God as we attend Holy Communion we hear God say to us as he said to Jesus, "You are my dear child. I am pleased with you". We go from here transfigured - changed. Our experience of the love of God in the God's Word and the bread and wine will make us want to extend that love to others in every avenue of life.
Because of our Saviour Jesus, our lives take on a new quality, a new radiance. We too have seen the glorified Jesus; we have seen the grace and glory of God. We have been given the courage and faith to go on and do the work Jesus has called us to do!
* The exact location of the mountain is not mentioned in the gospels. Mt Tabor is traditionally believed to be the place where the transfiguration took place. Mt Tabor lies between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
© Pastor Vince
6th March 2011