Not only that, as if that wasn't enough, but we get another ‘theophany’ (a God turning up and making Himself known) moment much like the baptism bit but along with the ‘well pleased’ thumbs up we have an instruction: “Listen to Him.”
Is this what transfiguration is all about: An instruction from the top to tell three of Jesus’ followers to listen to Him? “It's time to raise your game – listen to Jesus,” is that the whole point of the transfiguration?
It's no coincidence that this stellar moment comes a cigarette paper’s width before Ash Wednesday – this is for them then, and for us now, an affirmation, confirmation and mobilisation moment as we prepare our Lenten journey towards Calvary just as Peter, James and John were about to for that first Lent (not a term they would have know by the way).
With today's happenings, the three of them are left with no doubt about who Jesus really is. Of course Peter goes a bit OTT (over the top) and wants to build booths for Jesus and the other two – always looking to prolong and preserve what's before Him rather than just live in the moment – so often he looks like Church as rather than seize the day he looks to live in it for as long as possible (have a look at the "Get behind me satan," in the Bible): And that's another lesson for us from today too!
The three men fall to the floor at the sight (wouldn't you?) but Jesus comes over and lays His hands on them: Is this commissioning, healing their fears, or imparting something special (look at the people Jesus touches in the Bible and ask yourself what He is doing when He does it) on and in them? I think it is probably all three – and that's what I think might be on offer for us all today as well.
This is a real ‘one off’ with parallels in the Old Testament as there is much resonance with the Exodus passage where Moses has enters cloud and goes up on a mountain to meet with God.
Moses is up Mount Sinai (we don't know where Jesus was) - mountains were regarded as a place, a ‘high place’ perhaps, where God was closer and communication was easier – what happened with Moses was a confirmation and a reassurance; a line drawn in the sand for the people of God then - just as the transfiguration is the same for us now.
The transfiguration is, for us today, exactly the same as, in Jesus, we find the fulfilment of the Covenant that God made, and affirmed up the mountain with Moses, in the final part of our Lenten journey that is the cross.
And so we have our final reading where Peter makes obvious reference to the transfiguration. How does this help our thinking today?
Now, as in Peter’s time I'm sure, there are many people who mock and consign the Bible and its accounts to the ‘pure fiction and misplaced belief’ bin. The transfiguration is fantastic, but is it also fantasy? What if we changed the characters such that Jesus met with Kirk and Spock up the mountain, would it be any less (or more) fantastic? No, it would become nothing more than fiction, for that’s what adding fictional characters does to a story: It makes it fiction too!
Peter writes about not having ‘cleverly devised stories’; what we have is eye-witness accounts. What we see, or are shown, is as it is and sometimes we cannot quite join the dots. We might have glimpsed and moments of revelation, but it isn't always easy to understand or communicate. It is oral history – like the stories I try to hear from those who worked the mines some seventy years ago and lived in communities and industries now gone. Generally, knowing my sources, I realise there is little embellishment in the things recounted and this is true for us with the New Testament and the whole Bible.
As fantastic as it is the transfiguration is valuable, trustworthy and important for us as it draws a line from which we can confidently go on towards something quite frightening; it is a source of confidence and well-founded hope for them then, and for us.
Let us, filled with (realised) hope confident in Jesus, the Christ, move on towards His Passion and the reconciliation won for us in the cross.
Father, You made us to be one with You and by the redeeming work of Jesus, the Christ, have healed us and set us free. Help us to live in the power of the risen Christ, to preach the Gospel and to bering healing to this broken world of our we pray.
Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
2 Peter 1.16-21
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Post Communion Prayer
Holy God, we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ: may we who are partakers at his table reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world may know his power to change and save. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.