190303 Transfiguration C Exodus 34-35 Psalm 99 2 Corinthians 3: 12-4.2 Luke 9 28-36
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples are with Jesus on a mountain; a favoured biblical site for peak experiences of God’s presence. They see a soul searing and unforgettable vision of two of the ancient heavyweights from Old Testament times speaking with a transfigured Jesus. This in essence points to who Jesus really was, not just a great prophet who could work miracles, but God’s own Son. Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets appeared with Jesus. Then God’s voice singled out Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who possessed divine authority. Jesus, the Messiah would fulfil the prophecies of both the Law and the Prophets.
For centuries, people had been looking for the Messiah. The prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah and we read this prophesy clearly in Malachi 4:5-6. In the vision the disciples saw, Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus, confirmed Jesus Messainic mission – to fulfil God’s law and the words of God’s prophets.
We remember the stories told of God’s voice in the cloud over Mount Sinai. We have heard how God’s voice thundered at that time, and gave authority to his law, when it was given to Moses. This is the law we know as the Commandments in Exodus 19 and 20. God’s voice gave affirmation to Jesus when he was baptised in the river Jordan, and he was anointed by the descending of the Holy Spirit, visible in the form of a dove.
As we celebrate today and give thanks for the revelation and transfiguration of Christ we wonder and think about special religious experiences. Since early times there has been some uncertainty about exactly which hill, or mountain Jesus, Peter, James and John had climbed and over time a popular place is either Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor and there are good reasons for considering both which have been in any case considered holy places for centuries. However Mount Tabor is not such a high mountain and would have been easy to climb, more like a rounded hill, rising from the flat pastures of the floodplain surrounding it.
A few years ago, I was on that high place, it was a cloudy day and suddenly a shaft of bright sunlight broke through the clouds – a reminder of the radiance of Christ as the disciples saw him transfigured. We are reminded again, that God’s voice gave authority to Jesus’ words, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. We are reminded that when God gave the law to Moses, Moses’ face shone, because he had been in the presence of God. And we have heard that every time Moses and God spoke together his face was so bright that it frightened the people and he needed to wear a veil until the radiance dimmed a little. So too, in this vision, the three eyewitnesses, Peter, James and John, saw Jesus’ face shone.
We are told that Moses, Elijah and Jesus were talking. What were they talking about? When we read the story in Luke, he says that they were talking about Jesus’ departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Was this about what would happen after his resurrection and he would ascend to Heaven we wonder? We are also old that both Moses and Elijah were appearing “As in Glory”. Is this how we would appear in Heaven with Jesus?
When we have special experiences, we want them to last, Peter tries to do just that. Luke’s comment is kind. “He did not know what he said”. It took some time and effort for Peter and the others to understand what it meant to be disciples but here we see God accepting them as they are. Not only do they have a special experience not given to others, but they are also given insight into Jesus’ relationship with God. They hear “This is my son, my Chosen; listen to him”. Surely after this they will listen, but does this powerful experience change them? Apparently not just yet. It is one thing to have a powerful spiritual experience, but quite another to be actually changed by it. And to tell others of such experience is fraught with risks.
The telling of this story, helps us, in that Jesus was clearly identified as God’s Son. The ability to follow Jesus, comes from confidence about who he is. If we believe he is God’s Son, then we will want to do what he says, and follow him.
The transformation of Jesus is a clue for us, that we can also be transformed. After Jesus had died and rose again, he sent his Holy Spirit to guide us. The Holy Spirit’s work is to teach us how to be transformed, even in this life on earth, and to be the agents for the transformation of others.
Of course, we look forward to our transformation when we see Christ face to face, but in the meantime the Ashes of Lent help us in the fulfilment of God’s purposes, here and now.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent is next Wednesday. Ashes are a visible memory of fire. A visible memory of what is destroyed and of what is no longer part of life. The Old Testament scriptures tell us God’s glory is so magnificent, his beauty and majesty are of such brilliance that to behold them is to die. The transfiguration story echoes this. God is “a consuming fire” who called the Israelites forth in fire on the mountain-top and led them with fire through the wilderness. In our Baptism we symbolically journey from captivity to life. We spiritually die with Christ and rise to freedom.
We rise with Christ. We are transformed, and we are told to SHINE. With unveiled faces we reflect God’s glory. The period of Lent is a time when we try to withdraw for a while from the pressures of daily life and be more intentionally in the presence of God by making extra time for study and prayer.
Can we cast aside the ashes of selfishness? Can we be transformed by God’s unconditional love? Can we be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that we can connect with others and reach out in acts of kindness, charity, justice and generosity. Can we connect with those we live with, members of our families and friends and inspire transformation of life in them through the love of Jesus Christ Shining in us?
With unveiled faces can we reflect the Glory of God in the days and weeks to come?
The Reverend Camellia Flanagan tssf