Summary: A sermon for The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Series B. Preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon 2/22/09
Transfiguration. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day. In fact, other than one day out of the church year, you might not otherwise hear it. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the word “Transfiguration” as “a change in form or appearance” or “an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.” Needless to say, it’s not something you see happen in your everyday life. But one day a year, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, is set aside to talk about a Transfiguration that happened 2000 years ago. As we do, you’ll see something glorious happen, but we’ll discover the transfiguration isn’t so much about what those disciples saw, but what they heard, that they were to take from that mountaintop that day.
What a time it was for Peter, James, and John. Here they are, Jesus “inner circle” of disciples, headed up a mountain with Jesus. As far as why they’re going up, we don’t know. One of the characteristics of Mark’s gospel is that he doesn’t add in a whole lot of detail, he tends to get right to the point of what happens. Jesus, and these three disciples are up on this mountain alone, and then, it happens! One moment, Jesus looks like he always had to the disciples, one of them, flesh and blood. The next thing they know, Jesus is transfigured, his clothes becoming “dazzling white, whither than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Matthew’s gospel tells us Jesus face was shining brighter than the sun. Now this had to have been impressive enough, to see this bright white light coming from Jesus, the Light of the Word Himself.
But wait, there’s more. Remember, up to this point, the only people on that mountain were Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Now, out of nowhere, Elijah and Moses appear. The last time anyone on earth had seen Elijah was recorded in our Old Testament reading for this morning in 2 Kings 2. Elijah and Elisha are walking together and talking one moment, then a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate them, and Elijah is taken up into heaven That happened 650 years ago. Moses died before the Israelites ever entered the promised land, and that had been over 1000 years earlier. And now, out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah, represented the law and the prophets, the Old Testament scriptures, are there with Jesus on that mountain, talking with him. Now if I were in Peter, James, or John’s shoes that day, I’d be a bit confused by everything that’s going on here, especially if I were Peter, and especially in light of what had happened a few days earlier..
You see, six days earlier, just after Peter had answered Jesus’ question of “who do you say that I am?” with the bold confession “You are the Christ”, Jesus “began to teach (the disciples) that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priest, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Now Peter didn’t want to hear any of this talk, so he pulls Jesus aside and starts to rebuke Jesus, saying “This won’t happen to you. This isn’t the Messiah I was looking for. Messiahs don’t suffer and die, they bring victory and glory to us. So Jesus, this talk about dying and suffering, it ain’t gonna happen to you, not if I have anything to say about it” But Jesus replied “Get behind me, Satan, You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Ouch. Talk about being put in your place.
I wonder if Peter was still smarting from that rebuke as he sees all of this stuff unfold right before his very eyes. He sees all this glorious event take place, the light radiating from Jesus, Moses and Elijah’s presence there, and he thinks “Boy, it doesn’t get any better than this. Now this is what I was talking about the other day, Jesus!” Out of a desire to keep that glory there as long as he can, he says “It is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark adds in the comment that Peter didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened. Of course they had to be frightened. They’re getting a small glimpse of the glory of God himself, right there on that mountain. Whatever is going on up there on that mountaintop that day, it’s something that Peter wants to have last as long as possible. Maybe he thinks that by his work of setting up shelters, he can persuade Moses and Elijah to stay with Jesus for a while so that he can keep this glorious activity going. Maybe Peter thinks that he’d better do something to make sure this experience doesn’t end. Maybe Peter thinks that this is his chance to keep Jesus from suffering and dying.