As I begin today I want to ask a question; I wonder if anyone noticed anything different about today’s gospel, something that stuck out from the past few weeks’ gospel readings�
For the past several months–since Advent (November) in fact, our gospel lessons have come from the Gospel of Mark, with the exception of special days like Palm Sunday–Today’s gospel reading is another exception and today is another special day–our reading is not from the sequence of Mark’s gospel, instead it’s a reading from Luke�s gospel and describes an event in Jesus� life that has come to be known as The Transfiguration.
Transfiguration is a fancy word, and it describes an amazing event, it means that Jesus’ appearance, his figure, his body was changed, and that the disciples saw him in his true glory…
He was changed before their very eyes…
They had a true “mountain top moment” and they didn’t know quite how to handle it.
One of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, tells a story about another “mountain top moment” about a young minister, just out of seminary, serving his very first church. He gets a call telling him that a church member, an elderly woman who has given much of her life to the church, is in the hospital. She�s so weak she can�t even get up out of bed, and the doctors don�t hold much hope for recovery. Would he go and visit? Well, of course he will and he does.
All the way to the hospital he’s thinking about what he will say to this Christian lady, what words of comfort he can give her to prepare her for her eminent death. He arrives at the hospital, goes up to her room for the visit. He sits and talks with her a few minutes, just small talk really, nothing earth shattering. When he gets ready to leave, he asks if she would like him to pray with her. “Yes, of course,” She answers, That’s why I wanted you to come. So he asks her, “And what exactly would you like me to pray for?” “Why, I want you to pray that God will heal me,” she answers in a surprised tone of voice.
Haltingly, fumbling over the words, he prays just as she wanted, that God will heal her, even though he�s not really sure that can happen. When he says the “Amen” at the end of the prayer, the woman says, “You know, I think it worked! I think I�m healed!” And she gets out of the bed and begins to run up and down the hallway of the hospital, shouting, “Praise God! I’m healed! Praise God! I’m healed!”
Meanwhile, the young minister, in a stupor, stumbles to the stairwell, walks down five flights of stairs, makes his way to the parking lot and somehow manages to find his car. As he fumbles to get his keys out of his pocket, he looks heavenward and says, “Don’t you ever do that to me again!”
He had a mountaintop moment, but he didn�t know what to do with it!
That happens in life, amazing things just happen without warning or explanation and we�re caught off guard and unsure what to do with them.
That�s what happened to the Disciples on the mountain� they were scared, frightened; in fact Luke tells us they told no one in those days about anything they had seen.
Jesus was transformed, changed, transfigured right in front of them
They saw him talking with Moses and Elijah and surrounded with glory…
Luke tells us that Jesus was talking about his departure, in Greek the word that’s used there is the same one used to refer to another major biblical event you might have heard of–it means exodus…
Jesus was speaking to Moses and Elijah about his “exodus” which he was to “accomplish” at Jerusalem.
It’s clear that Luke wants us to make a connection, to understand something…
He wants us to make the connection between what happened to the Hebrews in their exodus from Egypt and the work Jesus was to accomplish in Jerusalem, the work from which you and I can now benefit so much
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In the original Exodus God brought the Hebrews out of their slavery, their bondage in Egypt, but what could possibly connect this miracle, the crossing of the Red Sea and escape from Egypt with what Jesus was about to do in Jerusalem�
�And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.�
The word �accomplish� that is used, it has the sense of completion, of perfection, a sense that nothing more can be said or done, that it is finished.
Jesus was talking about something he was to �accomplish� to complete, to bring to perfection� at Jerusalem,
And we know what this is� we know what Jesus is going to do in Jerusalem already, we don�t have to be surprised� he�s already told us�
Right before he went up on the mountain to pray Jesus told his disciples about his coming death saying �The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.�
And then he told them �If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.�
And so, here in the middle of Luke�s Gospel, in the story of the Transfiguration, we have a very specific foreshadowing of the Crucifixion. In fact it�s more than a foreshadowing� it�s a revelation of what the crucifixion actually means�
Consider the parallels:
Jesus goes off with a handful of his closest disciples to pray� in this story, the appearance of his face was altered and his glory revealed� in Gethsemane, he sweat droplets of blood as he prayed to God.
As his appearance was changed, he is flanked by two men, Moses and Elijah, speaking of his departure� On the cross he�s flanked by two thieves speaking of his death�
In the Transfiguration, God speaks �This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!� while at the cross, God is silent�silent except for his Son hanging on the cross.
And in both cases, the disciples are scared and frightened, and don�t know what to do�
Peter wanted to build hut, he was talking out of his head� he didn�t know what he was saying� he and the other disciples had been asleep and awakened to see this amazing event taking place� I�m sure he was confused; maybe he thought he was dreaming�
I can visualize him pinching himself
They were scared� it�s no accident that traditional icons and images of the Transfiguration depict them falling all over themselves tumbling down the mountain.
And then there�s this word �to accomplish,� to complete, to bring to perfection, to finish� it�s the same word that Jesus says as he hangs from the Cross�It is finished, it is complete, it is perfected, it is accomplished.
In the original Exodus God was continuing to call a people forth as a witness to the nations, delivering them from their bondage to Pharoah�
In the exodus of Jesus Christ, in his death upon the cross and resurrection to new life, the whole world was freed from it�s bondage� In the cross, Jesus destroyed death�while any one of us would have been swallowed by the waters of death, Jesus, as the Son of God allowed them to wash over him and came out again on the other side, offering us the hope of everlasting life.
Often people will say that Jesus was a good teacher�
And he was that�
People will say he was a wonderful healer
And he most certainly was that�
But never once is any of these things presented as the ultimate goal�
Never once does Jesus say �it is perfected, complete, finished, accomplished� after teaching or healing or casting out demons.
He only says it at the moment of his death and in the transfiguration when he�s talking about his death�
Jesus was a great teacher, a great healer, a great leader� but he was and is the Son of God who came to die to set us free from our slavery to Sin and death�
This is what was Accomplished on the cross�This is what the Transfiguration points us to� a recognition of the identity and purpose of Jesus�
The Disciples didn�t know what to do with their experience of the Transfiguration before the Crucifixion and resurrection�it didn�t make sense�but it came to make sense, and looking back on it, retelling the story, gave them strength and endurance to do what Jesus had called them to do right before he went up the mountain to pray, right before his transfiguration when he called them (and us) to come follow him, to bear their crosses as he would bear his.
And through the Transfiguration, we can come to a better understanding of the Crucifixion and what it means to us�
The Disciples didn�t know what to do with their experience on the mountain with Jesus, and neither did the young minister in the story I told earlier� but the lesson we can learn from the Transfiguration is to hold on to those moments�
To keep those moments when Jesus is revealed to us close at hand,
To continually look for what God is doing even when it may scare us to death�
Because they will give us strength to get through the hard times� to pass through our own Gethsemane�s, to carry our own crosses and make it through to the other side.
And then one day, to tell other people about what we saw on the mountain�
Or get up the nerve to pray to God to do something wonderful again, to heal us or someone else�to help us care for one another in a way that we can�t possibly do on our own.
If you allow God to transform, change, transfigure you, to re-create you as you were meant to be, as he sees you in Christ
As you can be with Christ�
Then amazing things will happen�
In our families
In this Church
In this community
Like our Lord Jesus, let us go up the mountain in prayer and allow God to transform our hearts and our minds, giving up the things that keep us from fully being with him�
As we pray today� as we come to this table, let us seek the grace to ask God to transform, to change, to transfigure our hearts and our lives with his love…and make this church a reflection of his Kingdom. Amen.