About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
*The picture is Mount Tabor, which is historically believed to be the site of the Transfiguration.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
We jump out of sequence in Luke for one Sunday for this story of the Transfiguration. It is a Protestant custom to read this story the Sunday before Lent (Roman Catholics usually read it the second Sunday of Lent) — and whatever the original intent of this was, there are now many reasons given (including ones involving “World Mission Sunday” — which is observed in many Episcopal churches this same Sunday).
Just before this in chapter 9, Peter confesses Jesus as “the Messiah of God.” Then, contrary to the people’s hopes for the messiah as a deliverer of military victory, Jesus says that his messiahship is about suffering, and rejection and death … and that following him involves taking up crosses and losing your life to save it.
We can suppose that this message was disturbing and challenging to the disciples. We can suppose that there might have been some doubt that they were backing the wrong horse! And so the Transfiguration is confirmation that it is indeed God who is doing this new thing.
A few things to chew on:*Luke makes a point of saying that Peter, James and John were tired but managed to stay awake and because they did “they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him.” (contrast this to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane who “could not stay awake one hour.”). Staying awake, keeping alert despite distraction or weariness, is a theme that comes up often in the Gospel. Do you have a story in your life where Christ has been shown to you in a new way or in a powerful way because you were able to stay awake or focused through distraction?
*Peter’s reaction is so incredibly human. He experiences something powerful that he loves and wants to enshrine it – to make it last forever. We naturally want to hold on to what we love. It’s why people — particularly parents — often cry at weddings. But the voice of God in the story says something different. “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to him.” This is not about capturing an event, it is about a relationship. Following the relationship leads down the mountain, back into their lives. Think about the customs and traditions — in your family, work, school, church, etc — that you treasure. How much are they about enshrining an experience and how much are they about deepening a relationship?
*Think about Peter, James and John. James and John had been brothers for decades and we can imagine Peter as a longtime friend. Think about where their lives were at the beginning of the Gospel reading last week … just fishermen mending their nets. Think about what they are witnessing here … even without knowing the rest of the story. What a journey that was for brothers and friends! Imagine that. What do you think that did to their relationship? What was it like to go through all that together? How do you think it would have been different for them if they hadn’t known each other but had come together as strangers? (Hint … there are no right or wrong answers here!)
Try This:Transfigurations happen all the time. The world, our lives, are continually changing, being transfigured. It’s happening right now outside as the snow falls. Take 5-10 minutes each day this week and think about times of change in your life … where you could feel yourself becoming different. When was the last time you felt that way? Do you feel that way now? Where is God in the process?