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February 19, 2023

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 2

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

from the one who is Emmanuel,

God with us. Amen

“Six days later” our gospel begins

before launching into the tale of the Transfiguration,

leaving us to wonder what was six days ago

that was so important

that it needs to be mentioned as a set up to the story?

Six days earlier,

before this trip up the mountain,

Jesus had sat his disciples down and asked them

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said, ‘some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them,’ but who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matt. 16:13-16)

Peter is correct

and Jesus congratulates him

then begins to teach the disciples

what it means for him to be the Messiah,

telling them that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Matt 16:21)

and this is so contrary to Peter’s idea

of how the Messiah should be

that he concludes Jesus must be possessed by a demon

and takes him aside to perform an exorcism

only to have Jesus turn on him saying:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matt. 16:23)

and goes on to tell the disciples

that if they wish to be his followers

they must deny themselves,

take up their cross and follow him.

The truth about Jesus has been revealed

but the disciples are confused about what this truth means.

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”(Matt. 17:1-3)

The Jesus they know is changed before them,

Moses and Elijah, pillars of the faith

show up and talk with him,

they see for themselves

that Jesus is distinct from them and yet follows in their tradition,

just as the Messiah is supposed to,

and Peter is super excited,

‘now this is more like it, we should just stay here’ he suggests,

‘I’ll build shelters for you important guys,

we can just stay here, no need to go to Jerusalem’

“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!’ When the disciples heard this they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” (Matt. 17:5-6)

They are getting the full mountain top experience,

just as when Moses went up the mountain

to receive the covenant gift

as we heard in our first reading,

when God comes and speaks to Moses

a cloud covers the mountain and from below it looks like a devouring fire,

this is an experience to fear,

later we hear that after he speaks with God his face shines,

and the people are so uncomfortable with this

that Moses has to cover his face around them.

The glory of the Lord is an awesome thing.

And here Peter, James, and John are overshadowed by it

and in it they hear the voice of God

calling Jesus beloved, commanding them to listen to him

and they are terrified,

overcome by fear they fall to the ground.

And what does Jesus, the one who is transfigured before them,

The one who Moses and Elijah come to speak with,

the Beloved Son of God do?

He comes over and touches them

saying “Get up and do not be afraid.”

The Son of God touches the disciples

and they are comforted.

They have just had an overwhelming sensory experience,

seeing Jesus and Moses and Elijah,

being immersed in the cloud,

hearing the voice of God,

which I have to imagine they felt as well,

the vibrations of that resonate voice

reverberating in their bones,

and it’s too much,

they are overcome.

And Jesus comforts them with a touch,

a touch that reassures and grounds them,

brings them back to the present moment,

the three of them on a mountain with Jesus.

We humans are physical beings,

touch, physical connection with others

is what comforts us most.

You can sing and talk to a distraught infant all you want,

but what they really want is to be held.

As we grow up we rely on soothing touch less and less

but the impulse is still there as well as the need for connection.

The transfiguration is all about fully revealing who Jesus is

And while the disciples might have expected the fireworks

And the voice of God,

that makes sense as far as divine revelation goes

the most powerful revelation comes last

With the touch of a hand

In a simple touch Jesus reveals the core

of what the truth about him means,

he is Emmanuel, God with us,

incarnate- in the flesh.

He is the physical connection to God that we long for,

he cares for our bodies as much as our souls,

and he knows what it means to be human,

he is human in his own body

experiencing everything we do

including pain and suffering and death,

an experience he goes through, for the world.

And when he rises from the dead

he physically rises.

Thomas makes sure of that,

putting his hand in Jesus’ side

and his fingers in the holes

the nails made in his hands.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God

What does this mean?

It means the physical is intertwined with the spiritual

It means God is with us

In a real physical way

But wait, you say

Jesus has ascended to the father

Where is this physical connection?

Jesus has entrusted the continuation of his physical ministry to the church,

the body of Christ,

we are now the hands and feet

sent to create connection in the world,

and this is an awesome responsibility

because we know that as healing as touch can be,

it can also be misused in harmful ways

and given the fallibility of humanity

this seems like quite a gambol to leave it up to us

But of course it’s not just all up to us

Jesus made sure to maintain physical connection with us

in the bread and the wine of communion,

Jesus’ body and blood

that we hold in our hands

Gathered together, physically in worship

we confess Like Peter “I believe in Jesus Christ God’s only Son, our Lord”

and then Jesus comes to us

and we taste and see that the Lord is good,

we experience, the touch of Christ

and then we are sent back out into the world

because as much as it was important for Peter

to have his mountaintop experience,

and as much as he would have like to stay there,

he was needed down in the valley.

So to must we carry our experiences here,

out the doors with us,

into the world

and we go knowing that Jesus, Emmanuel,

goes with us. amen

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