Every year, we focus on the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the day when Lent begins. In a way, we conclude the season of Epiphany in the same manner it began. In the beginning of our season, we remember Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit of God came down to fill Jesus and the voice of God cried out “This is my son, the beloved. With him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” As we read the story of the Transfiguration today, we will hear that again God says the same thing as Jesus was transfigured – “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” The witnesses to Jesus baptism were different individuals that the witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration, but God had the same message – this is God’s son, the Messiah, who is loved by God. Listen to him!
Hear now the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus as it is recorded in Matthew, chapter 17, verses one through nine:
Proclamation of the Scripture Matthew 17:1-9
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.”
Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Message Dazzling Reign
The Transfiguration is a mysterious event. It appears in the middle of the book of Matthew, and is a glimpse into the supernatural nature of Jesus. Most of us will not encounter the Holy Spirit in the manner of Jesus – Jesus was transfigured before his friends, he metamorphosed and became visibly “more” than a regular person. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became whiter than anything on earth can be. Super mysterious and magical. And, then, to top it off, as Jesus and his friends were coming down the mountain, after the three disciples had witnessed a strange miracle, Jesus told them to keep quiet and not tell anyone what they saw until after his resurrection.
Although the transfiguration is a mysterious event in general, the most troubling part for many of us is that Jesus wanted the disciples to keep it quiet.
There are many theories about why this is…maybe Jesus didn’t want to be mobbed by bigger crowds than he was already drawing. Perhaps the crowds wanting him to heal ill people were distracting from his message. Also, Jewish people in the first century seemed to have many preconceived beliefs that the Messiah would act as a military ruler and lead them to repeal the Romans – Jesus did not come to earth to be a king in the way human kings operate. So, keeping his true nature quiet offered several advantages for Jesus’ mission to teach us about God’s love and to invite us to live out that love in how we relate to our fellow human beings.
For us, our take-away from the story of the Transfiguration is that Jesus was both fully-God and fully-man. This is a mysterious concept for us and a reminder that many of our beliefs fall into the “mystery” part of our faith. Some of the things we believe are intangible. Some of the things we believe are un-provable according to our current understandings of science and biological possibilities. Even if Jesus climbed into a Cat-Scan machine had a body scan or had his blood drawn and had a full DNA check-up, our scientific advances would not help us understand his nature as both human and God.
As rational Americans who live in the 21st century, we don’t allow for a lot of mystery in our lives. We are suspicious of things that seem supernatural – people may whisper to their pastor about the signs they see after a loved one dies or feeling like they have a guardian angel watching over them, but we are often reluctant to talk about these things in public or professional settings. We are afraid when we tell others about these things they will dismiss us as having a mental health problem. We are very private about the mysterious things we observe and experience.
But, there are many parts of our faith that are mysterious. We can’t deny this reality or apologize about it. And, we shouldn’t. People who aren’t Christians “yet” are often seeking mystery. People have experiences we can’t explain and want to be reassured that we are not alone in having these experiences. People find it comforting to discover that it normal and ok to not have an explanation for everything that happens to us.
On Wednesday, we will enter the Christian season of Lent. In this season, we are invited to slow down, to pray more, to fast or do without things that distract us from God, and to refocus on our faith. Our faith is mysterious – we are invited to lean into the mystery. We are invited to experience the mystery and to acknowledge we don’t have everything in this life figured out – we don’t need to have everything in this life figured out. Instead, we can let go of needing to be completely in-control of everything in our lives and remember that we don’t have to be in-control because we believe in God. God has everything under control. There are a lot of things about God we are incapable of understanding — we don’t know how God works. We don’t know God’s long-range plan for us – But, we do know that Jesus came to share with us that ultimately God loves us and God’s plan for us and humanity is good. God is the embodiment of love. God loves us and wants us to live out that love in our interactions with each other and our planet. And, although we will never fully understand all of God’s plan, we can trust it is Good.
Let us lean into the mystery. Let us lean into the good. And let us act out the love commandment in all our relationships and interactions with each other.
May it be so. Amen.