February 19, 2023
Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Peter 1:16-21
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