Section 1: Opening Prayer
God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Grant us, we pray, to be grounded and settled in your truth by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. That which we know not, reveal; that which is wanting in us, fill up; that which we know, confirm; and keep us blameless in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Section 2: Jesus = Kind of a Big Deal
The story of the Transfiguration is one of those that appears in three of the Gospels, which tells us that it’s pretty important! That Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36 each report this story gives us the sense not only of the historical likelihood of the event, but that it made a significant impact in the life of the disciples. Give each of these a read and see how the stories are similar, and if there are any differences.
Now, let’s define our terms here. Transfigure means to change into something more wonderful than it was before. Now, you might ask: Can it get any better than Jesus? Of course not! But transfiguration can also mean revealing the more wonderful nature that was previously unseen. That’s more like what we get here on this mountain with Jesus. When Jesus shines so bright, illuminated with light and robed in beyond-bleach white, it becomes clear that he’s not just a special earthly teacher. Jesus is kind of a big deal, and absolutely heavenly.
Yet, we might ask why this had to happen this way, and why Moses and Elijah showed up with Jesus. What’s the purpose of this whole thing? Before we get into those details, give this song a listen, which reflects on the Transfiguration. Let it lead you to reflect as well. Follow the link (since the privacy settings won’t allow us to embed the video here): https://vimeo.com/144134609
What we first must remember is that the Transfiguration represents one of the mysteries of our faith. We’re not able to fully explain Jesus’s virgin birth or his resurrection from the dead, and his transfiguration is the same kind of event. It’s a miracle.
Miracles aren’t just random events, blips in the otherwise predictable fabric of reality. Miracles have a purpose, given by the God that make the miraculous happen. So the best question to ask is what does this tell us about God?
Jesus shining bright like a diamond (and even brighter) is, as we noted before, an indication of his otherworldly identity. But that Moses and Elijah show up tell us something more. They open up to the kind of identity Jesus shares.
Remember that Moses was the leader who guided Israel out of slavery in Egypt into freedom. Moses, at God’s behest, instituted the first Passover. Through Moses, God gave the Law to the Hebrews, which helped them stay in right relationship with God. Much of his story is found in Exodus.
Remember that Elijah was a prophet who also worked miracles among the Israelites. When the people’s rulers became corrupt, Elijah called them back to faithfulness. At the end of his life on earth, Elijah ascended into heaven and sent his spirit on Elisha, who carries on Elijah’s legacy. Much of his story is found in 1st Kings.
Put that all in perspective with who we now know Jesus to be. Jesus is a leader who guides us out of slavery to sin and into the freedom of God’s grace. Jesus becomes God’s Passover for all people. Through Jesus, God gives a new law, to love one another as God loves us. Jesus is also a prophet who worked miracles among the Israelites. He called God’s people to faithful living in the face of corrupt Hebrew leaders like Herod, as well as the corrupt empire of Caesar and Pilate. Jesus ascended into heaven and on Pentecost sent his spirit, the Holy Spirit, to enliven the church, so that we might become the Body of Christ on earth and carry on Jesus’s legacy.
When Jesus appears in the divine form, lit up like a neon sign, it’s the people with him that reveal just what he’s all about. More than just some other God, he’s the Messiah, the chosen one of God, who will save the people from their sins. He follows in the footsteps of those who came before him, but unlike them, he’s more than human. Only gods shine brighter than the sun.
Why the Transfiguration? Jesus is playing his hand, revealing the divine power and divine purpose at the core of his life.
Section 4: What Does This Mean?
Before you answer these questions, take a moment and listen to this perspective on the Transfiguration. What does it lead you to think?
- At the end of each story, the disciples remain silent, and in Matthew and Luke that’s because Jesus tells them not to tell anyone what happened! Why do you think that is?
- The Transfiguration serves as a hinge upon which the Gospels turn. What does Jesus turn toward after the Transfiguration?
What this video helps to highlight, and what the disciples’ silence suggests, is that there an immense element of mystery in the Transfiguration, even after understanding that Elijah and Moses presence identified Jesus as a special leader in Israel, and even after realizing that his vibrant appearance reveals a divine identity. What are they to make of this? This doesn’t match what they expect the Messiah to look like. Jesus is a great rabbi, but no military leader. He’s a rebel, but he’s not leading an insurrection. The Transfiguration points to Jesus being the messiah, but the rest of his life tells them he’s going to challenge their religious beliefs. Even as God is revealed in Jesus, more questions crowd our minds.
Yet, that’s the importance of this fulcrum of the Gospels. After the Transfiguration, Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, the Passover, and his crucifixion. The disciples leave the Transfiguration with questions, but they walk with Jesus toward answers. The answers themselves will challenge their faith to the core, but they will also restore God’s abundant life to their whole beings. The Transfiguration isn’t the last time the disciples see Jesus raised up on a hill between two other men. The next time, though, it’s on a cross, crucified between two criminals. They’ll leave that place in silence as well, and again with more questions than answers. Yet, they’ll see a part of God there that they never expected: absolute self sacrifice, all from the same God who shone so bright between Moses and Elijah.
Perhaps the best learning we can take from the Transfiguration for our own lives is this: Don’t get lost in the details or the miracles. Let the miracles bring you to worship. Let the details inspire you to learn more about God. And, sometimes, it’s alright to leave in silence, still reflecting on what God’s shown you and what questions still remain.
Section 5: Closing Prayer
O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Opening and Closing Prayers adapted from Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2017 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #25165.