Transfiguration Sunday Let Your Face Shine Brightly
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John,
and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. St. Mark 9:2-9
Today I want you all to see the glory of God, and to let that glory be reflected in your faces. In the Gospel we heard that when Jesus was transfigured on the high mountain, his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. Matthew adds that the face of Jesus shown like the sun. And then Moses and Elijah showed up to talk things over with him. Peter said, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." Have you ever wondered how Peter knew it was Moses and Elijah? I don’t think he had ever met them before. I don’t think there were any photographs available of those two. Were Moses and Elijah wearing name tags?
Moses was one of the people in the Old Testament who was permitted to see God face to face. You can read about his Transfiguration in Exodus 34. Following the episode of the golden calf, Moses went back up Mount Sinai and again received the two tables of the law. When God talked with him, the skin of his face began to shine. And when Moses came down from the mountain, the people saw it and were afraid to come near him. But he called to them and told them God’s will. Moses was the means by which the people had access to God and the brightness of the face of Moses reflected God’s glory. But when Moses finished speaking to the people he covered his face with a covering of some sort, a veil. From then on, whenever he went in to speak with God he took the veil off and then he would come out and speak with the people. But when he was done speaking, he would cover his face again with the veil. In our second lesson today, Paul tells us that the brightness of the glory of God shining on the face of Moses faded quickly after he left the presence of Yahweh and spoke with the people. So, rather than remind the people of the frailty of their means of access to God, Moses veils his face!
The other person on the mountain with Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. He was a man who had great faith in Yahweh and was totally and completely loyal to him. In the ninth century before Christ, Elijah was the leader in the struggle against the encroaching forces of Baalism that were fostered by Jezebel, the Phoenician queen of king Ahab. Perhaps you will recall the climatic scene in the contest on Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. Sacrificial animals were placed upon the dry wood on two altars, one altar for Baal, and the another for Yahweh. The prophets of Baal and Elijah were to ask for fire from the deity, with the provision that whichever deity answered with fire must be accepted as God. All Israel was summoned to witness the ordeal.
All morning the prophets of Baal entreated their god, whirled around the altar in a grotesque, limping dance, and, in the final frenzy, cut themselves with lances and swords. But it was all in vain. In contrast, the dignity and serenity of Elijah was indicative of his profound trust in Yahweh. Upon Elijah’s command, water was poured upon the sacrificial animal on the altar of the Lord. Then Elijah prayed and the fire of Yahweh consumed the burnt offering. In the presence of this miracle, the people confessed that Yahweh was God. The Old Testament lesson today tells us of the last day of Elijah’s earthly life. As Elijah and his successor, Elisha, were talking, "a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven." And obviously in heaven he was face to face with Yahweh and the glory of God must have shown on his face too.
Maybe that is why Peter knew that these two with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, because he knew the stories of their transfiguration. And now these two most representative characters of the Old Testament were present with Jesus. Moses represented the law, and Elijah represented the prophets. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the message of Elijah and the prophets. But how does he do this? In spite of the fact that it came from God, the law given through Moses was a failure in bringing people to God. No one, not even Moses, could keep the law. All of us too have failed in keeping the commandments of God, in putting God absolutely first in everything in our lives, and loving one another as God has loved us. So Jesus keeps the whole law, every jot and tittle, in our place. The one whom the prophets pointed to, who would come and upon whom "the Lord would lay the iniquity of us all" is the fulfiller of the law. But now that he has fulfilled the law, we are set free from the law. It can accuse us, but because we are in Christ, it cannot condemn us.
Peter is exceedingly afraid and really doesn’t know what to make of all this. So he makes his comical offer to built three little houses there for these three who have seen God face to face. But Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead."
It is only after Jesus goes the way of cross and dies on it for the whole world and rises again, that the disciples are able to put things together. It seems that their eyes were veiled and they could not grasp bits and pieces of what God was doing in their very midst. But when they were experiencing the utter depths of despair as their Lord was dying on the cross, they could remember the vision of the transfiguration. But when he rises from the dead, they know what it all means. For the Spirit of the risen Christ takes away the veil. And we too can see in the crucified and risen Christ the glory of God, and we can know the love and forgiveness of Christ.
As Moses and Elijah and Jesus were transfigured and their faces showed for the glory of God, so can our faces. We are having the veils lifted from our eyes too. As the Spirit of God comes to us in the wonderful and incredible news of God’s grace and love, the Spirit convinces us that we are indeed the children of God. As we look to the cross of Jesus, we can see the glory of God and the presence of God. As we sing the Gospel of our salvation with one another and to one another, the Spirit helps us to behold the glory of the Lord. And the Spirit comes to change us into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.
We too can hear the voice of the Father saying of Jesus, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" And we say and sing to one another, yes, Jesus is God’s beloved Son. He died for me and rose again. And the Spirit has convinced us that our ultimate goal is to live in the dazzling presence of God forever. In God’s presence there will be the fullness of joy. At God’s right hand there will be pleasures forever more.
But we know that we can not remain on the mountain. Our walk with Jesus for now is on the service road. The way to future glory is through the servant’s entrance. Any other way would be a blind alley. We, the servant people of God, are now to go back into the world of pain and sorrow and need. We dare not leave our heads in the clouds, nor just stand on the sidelines to cheer others on. But now we want to listen to Jesus so we will know how to live his way of life. You have been changed on the inside, so let your face show it. No more grumpy faces. You are not living any longer for what others can do for you. You are living for what you can do for others. With the vision of the resurrection of Jesus, and our resurrection in our baptism, we will let the new Spirit in us shine forth on our faces and we will joyfully go down the service road. Let us not only pray for the sick and the hungry and those in great need, but let our shining faces be seen in their presence doing what we can to ease their burdens.
God is pleased with us as we listen to his beloved Son who now calls us to his blessed table. Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. The good news is that he who died and rose again, comes to us now under the bread and wine in Holy Communion to transfigure and transform us into servants. May the Father, who was pleased with his Son, keep the glory of Christ before our eyes as we go forth as his servants to bear the burdens of one another. Let God’s people say Amen to that.