Transfiguration – Sunday, March 3, 2019

March 3, 2019  

Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36

On a mountaintop, Moses spoke with God. Moses was there, with God, for days. God gave him the law, etched onto two stone tablets. Moses left the mountain, descending to the place where the Hebrew people were encamped. As scripture tells us, Moses “did not know that the skin of his face was shining” (Ex. 34:30).

Moses’ face shone because he had been in the presence of God on the mountaintop. Moses’ face shone because he had seen God. Moses’ face shone because he had talked to God.

In the same way, when Jesus was transformed on a mountaintop, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). Jesus stood on the mountaintop; Moses and Elijah spoke to him. Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory” (Luke 9:31). Peter and John and James saw them.

When the Israelites saw Moses’ face shine brightly they were afraid (Ex. 34:30). When Peter saw Jesus and Moses and Elijah in glory, he was confused (Luke 9:33). Peter’s confusion might have been because he was almost asleep and was wakened by the prophets. The Israelites fear was for other reasons.

The Israelites had never known someone who had seen God. Some, living in the time of Moses, believed no one could see God and live to tell others what they had seen (T. Denise Anderson “Reflections on the Lectionary March 3” Christian Century January 30, 2019 p. 19). Another option for their fear, according to one scholar, was that the Hebrew word being translated as “glory” could also be translated as “horn” (“Exodus 34:29-35 in The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 1, p. 953). Hence the cover of our bulletin is an image of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses—with horns.

There are scholars who compromise on the meaning of the word, saying a “horn” of light shone from Moses’ head (TNIB, p. 953). Perhaps it looked like a modern-day headlamp. Either way—Moses frightened the Israelites.

Unlike the Hebrew people, when Peter saw Jesus transformed Peter wasn’t afraid, as I said before he was confused. He was wakened from being almost asleep.

Imagine going on a camping trip, almost falling asleep and then glancing over to see one of your companions standing with strangers, all of them shining like they are glowing in the dark! Imagine you recognize those strangers as prophets. Imagine you know the moment is monumental and your cellphone has lost its charge! You can’t take photos! What are you going to do?

Peter wanted to build booths, like monuments to the moment. But, even as he suggested the possibility a cloud came over them all and he heard a voice say “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

Jesus was transformed.

Everything pivoted (TNIB vol. 1, p. 955).

For generation after generation after generation of Israelites, the prophets were the intermediators—God spoke to the prophets, then the prophets spoke to God’s people.

Now, in an instant, on a mountaintop, the prophets spoke to Jesus. They were all transformed.

And God named Jesus for who and what he was: God’s Son.
Listen to him!

What is so interesting to me about this story is that, after seeing Jesus stand with Moses and Elijah, after seeing Jesus transformed, and after hearing God speak: Peter and John and James “kept silent.” They “told no one” (Luke 9: 36). Well, at some point somebody told Luke because he wrote the story down in his gospel, about 60-80 years after Jesus died.
But why keep silent?

Maybe they kept silent because the whole experience was just too weird. Maybe they kept silent because they didn’t believe anyone would ever believe them. Maybe they kept silent because they didn’t really understand what happened when it happened.

One scholar suggests the disciples didn’t understand the importance of the transfiguration until after Jesus died, resurrected, and then ascended into heaven (TNIB vol. 9 p. 207). Then, finally, the disciples knew and believed who Jesus was: the Son of God.

We know who Jesus was.
We know who Jesus is.
We know Jesus had and has the power to transform our lives.

Which is where our reading from 2 Corinthians comes in.
St. Paul wrote:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…
And all of us… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another… (3:17-18).
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6).

May we know the freedom, may we claim the freedom, may we live the freedom we receive because we have seen the glory of Jesus Christ.
May we let Christ’s light live in and through us, always.