Transfiguration Sunday (March 6, 2011)

Lessons: Exodus 24:12-18 Psalm 2 (7) or Psalm 99 (9) 2 Peter 1:16-21 St. Matthew 17:1-9

Prayer of the Day
: O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice from the bright cloud declaring Jesus your beloved Son, you foreshadowed our adoption as your children. Make us heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

St. Matthew 17:1-9, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Three Voices

Three voices are heard on that day; the day when Jesus takes Peter and James and John up on a high mountain for some solitude. Peter, James and John may have been expecting solitude, but that is far from what they experience. Instead, Jesus is transfigured, until he begins to look like an angel: shining as brightly as the sun. Moses and Elijah appear with him. The three of them talk while Peter, James and John watch.

Finally, Peter can take it no longer (so, the first of the three voices): he proposes a building project. “If you wish, I will make three dwellings…” Isn’t that always our response? We experience a rich and inspiring moment, and our first instinct is to build a memorial. Put up a monument. Add some park benches with engraving. Build a church on the spot, and sit behind closed doors every Sunday to talk about what that event meant to everyone who was involved. Peter is so moved by the experience that he offers to build three dwellings in memory of what has just taken place.

He is interrupted, though. “While he was still speaking” Matthew says, they are engulfed by a “bright cloud” (surely a sign of God’s presence!). From the cloud, the second voice thunders down, “This is my son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased: listen to him!” The same words that God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, except with one addition: “Listen to him!” (Implying, perhaps, that Peter isn’t?) These three disciples, and the church that will follow them, are commanded to listen to Jesus. They won’t, of course. Death and resurrection make no sense to them. They will reject that kind of thinking over and over. They will listen, but only for what they want to hear. At least until after he rose from death. Only then will they listen in earnest to what he left with them.

Overcome by the voice, the disciples collapse and fall, face down, on the ground. Like dead men, they lie there, not having any idea what to think or to say or to do. Jesus, of course, notices them, and has compassion on them. He touches them, and we hear the third voice: “Get up and do not be afraid.” The phrase most often uttered by God’s messengers is now found on the lips of Jesus. By his strength, they are able to stand up and make their way home. With this gracious gesture, Jesus leads them away from that frightening and confusing experience, down the mountain to where the crowds waited.

The third voice speaks again, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised form the dead.” Tell no one. (One of the few commandments that we are far too happy to fulfill.) Jesus, here, reminds us of what the disciples could never have imagined. This mountaintop experience with Moses and Elijah will make no sense whatsoever, apart from the resurrection. No matter how much they might talk about it, it will not bring one single conversation partner to understand what Jesus is really all about.

The resurrection of Jesus stands central to this text, as it stands central to the Scriptures — and to our life together. We gather at the foot of the cross, and raise our voices to the one who conspires with Moses and Elijah; the one who defeats death; the one who makes our new beginning with God possible. Apart from the resurrection, it makes no sense at all. But in the light of the resurrection, it is our life and our hope.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must Peter, James and John have thought when Jesus was transfigured?
  2. Why did Peter offer to build “three dwellings” on the mountaintop?
  3. What did the touch of Jesus mean to them, after the shock of the voice from the cloud?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does the death and resurrection of Jesus mean to me?
  2. When have I felt the touch of Jesus in my life, and experienced his presence taking away my fear?
  3. How does the vision of his power and might give me strength for faithfulness?