The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Year C (2/7/2016)

Lessons:Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99 (9) 2nd Corinthians 3:12–4:2 St. Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

9.28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

[37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]

St. Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a] 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.

The New Moses; The New Exodus

It is one of the more extraordinary stories in the New Testament. The crowds are not sure just who Jesus is, but Peter knows: “[You are] The Messiah of God.”  (Luke 9:20) Jesus speaks of his approaching passion (“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” — Luke 9:22), and of what it will be like to follow him (“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” — Luke 9:23-24). Then, about eight days later, Jesus makes his way up the mountain to pray, with Peter, James and John.

While there, Jesus is “transfigured” in their presence. It is a strange word — transfigured — but it refers to an even stranger reality. St. Luke tells us that the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. (St. Matthew adds that his face shone like the sun.) But even more importantly, Jesus is seen to be standing with Moses (the leader of Israel during the Exodus, when God brought them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land) and Elijah (arguably the greatest of all the Hebrew Bible prophets). Moses has a place at the heart of the great salvation story in the Hebrew Bible, and Elijah is one of the few people in the Bible who never dies (2nd Kings 2:11-12).

This is amazing, and the disciples clearly are dumbfounded by what they are seeing. But then the story takes another step into the unbelievable. The three of them are standing together “in glory” (Were Moses and Elijah similarly transfigured?), and they are “speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The English translation doesn’t catch the whole of it. “Departure” translates the Greek word ἔξοδον (exodon). They are speaking of Jesus’ exodus. The disciples can’t possible know this but we do: in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is accomplishing a salvation even greater than when the Jews were saved from slavery in Egypt. This new exodus will not be an exodus from land and place, but an exodus from brokenness and sinfulness. Saved this time not through the plagues and the sea and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, but saved through the resurrection and the proclamation of new life.

Eight days after Peter identifies Jesus as Messiah, God identifies Jesus as the beloved son (for the second time: see Luke 3:22), who will become God’s instrument of exodus (Moses), and the means by which people are given life eternal (Elijah). This isn’t just a magic trick, or an example of Jesus flexing his spiritual muscles for his audience. No: this is a pronouncement of who Jesus is and will be: Messiah, Savior, leader of the new exodus.

His disciples kept silent. But what will I do?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah when he is transfigured?
  2. How must Peter, James and John have understood this event?
  3. Why does the church turn to this story on the Sunday before Lent every year?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean to me that Jesus is my savior?
  2. What do I think of when I imagine Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together, transfigured?
  3. What does this story teach me about the nature of God, and of God’s intentions for me?