The Feast of the Transfiguration – Luke 9.28 – 36
I have a deep love for hills and mountains, they lift my heart and my spirit and over many years now the Galloway hills have been a source of refreshment and renewal, even if my knees don’t agree. Last Friday I had a cracking walk along the Clints of Dromore with the wonderful views of Cairnsmore and down the Fleet Valley, and bit by bit I am knocking off the high hills which as yet I have not managed to climb. There is something about gaining height and getting a new perspective on the landscape and at the top seeing where you’ve been and of course where you are going.
Today we are on the mountaintop – the Mount of Transfiguration. This is a place where the true identity of Jesus is revealed in a powerful way and God’s glory is seen, and there is the voice – what a voice! “This is my Son, my Chosen listen to him!” This experience for the disciples, Peter, James and John becomes a fearful encounter with the glory and presence of God as the cloud descends. Echoes here of Moses on the mountain being enveloped by God’s presence. This presence does not bring comfort but terror – that’s worth reflecting on I think. Here a new perspective is revealed, there is a sense of seeing where they have been and where they may be going. This is a hugely powerful moment.
As we look back we see Moses and Elijah on the mountain embodying, “The Law and the Prophets” – Jesus’ identity as the “Chosen” is rooted in the “Law and the Prophets” of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” predicted by Moses himself “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people.” Deuteronomy 18.15. The appearance of Elijah was associated with the coming of the day of the Lord, a powerful revelation of God’s power and presence. “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible Day of the Lord comes.” Malachi 4.5. After his resurrection on the road to Emmaus, Jesus will lead an amazing bible study with the forlorn men he meets on that first Easter Day. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Luke 24.27.
The conversation with Moses and Elijah leads us to see where we are going. Luke tells us it is about “his departure which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus speaks of his own “exodus”, the original word in the text, which is to be accomplished through his death and resurrection. Exodus is such a powerful biblical word, deeply significant to God’s chosen people, recalling God’s liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt – salvation, redemption for God’s people. Luke’s use of the word “accomplish” is important as he uses it to refer to those events which will happen to fulfil a long-standing divine plan revealed in scripture. Jesus through the power of his self-sacrificing love for all people, revealed on the cross, leads a new exodus to freedom and life and he invites us all to share in it.
This is a passage packed with so much significance, so hard to explain or even make sense of. It is a revelation of who Jesus is and what he is to do. It is also a call to an obedient and attentive relationship as a follower of Jesus.
This comes of course in what is heard from the heavenly voice, “This is my Son, my Chosen listen to him!” These words echo what we heard at Jesus’ baptism, “you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Here the message is for the disciples’ ears “This is my son” and here the adjective is “chosen” – “This is my Son, my chosen.” How are we to respond to this? We are to listen to him, for he is the chosen and anointed Son of God. Just a few verses earlier in this chapter in verse 23 Jesus says, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” “This is my Son, my Chosen listen to him!” There is costly obedience in being a disciple of Jesus.
If we read on to the next part of Chapter 9 of Luke, we would see how the mountaintop experience is going to be met head on by a great crowd and the need of a man shouting for Jesus to help his son and God’s glory will be revealed this time in the healing of this child. The Transfiguration of Jesus, that moment of revelation of who Jesus is extends and exists beyond the mountaintop experience. That moment of glory will not be held by the wooden shacks which Peter wants to build. Remember my friends God’s glory can be seen in us and around us, on the mountaintops and in the depths, for Jesus is with us and calls us to be with him in the task of transfiguration in our world, revealing and sharing the glorious love of God.
There are moments in the hills when the clouds gather and the sky goes dark, then suddenly the clouds part just a little and a glorious shaft of light reaches the ground, always a beautiful moment, like a window into heaven. With the help of Jesus can we be those who open the window to God’s presence, glory and love, by the way we live, the way we speak and by what we do.