Sunday 2 March 2014 at St Peter & St Paul Wingrave
First Reading Exodus 24.12-18
The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”
Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Gospel Matthew 17.1-9
Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no-one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Today’s gospel reading—Transfiguration. Distinct parallels in OT reading from Exodus. Both up a mountain. Voice of God heard from bright cloud. God revealed in all His glory.
Exodus—glory of Lord revealed in consuming fire. Matthew—glory of God revealed in Jesus.
Echoes of Baptism of Christ—same words “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” heard from cloud. Also echoes in I Kings 19—Elijah escapes from Jezebel up Mount Sinai—still small voice of God—sound of sheer silence—gentle whisper:
11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Epiphany ἐπιφάνεια, ‘manifestation’ is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Theophany θεοφάνεια meaning ‘appearance of god’
Jesus transformed—shines with heavenly glory in front of fearful disciples. Knowing OT background, explains Peter’s suggestion the disciples build 3 shelters—for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But misunderstood what they were seeing—Jesus not equal to Moses and Elijah—Law and Prophets—but divine.
For 6 days before transfiguration—hints of what was to come.
· Jesus walks on water (as Son of God)
· Peter identifies Jesus as “Messiah—Son of the Living God”
· Jesus calls anyone who wants to follow him but says they will have to “walk the way of the cross.”
All is not sweetness and light. Elijah accused by God of cowardice. Moses went alone—other leaders too afraid. Peter rejected implications of Jesus’s divinity—his words were a temptation to take another path—he had become none less than Satan himself.
High point in transfiguration is clear. God himself affirms his own Son. Jesus’s own glory revealed on mountain. Low point—this glory cannot be separated from temptation in Gethsemane—humiliation, suffering, abandonment of crucifixion—God whose own blood will be spilled for our redemption. High mountain—low mountain.
No wonder disciples terrified—Malachi 3:2 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Handel Messiah? Another wonderful bible story of marvel and mystery? Or something of relevance for today?
Perhaps Jesus is just too familiar and approachable to us? Maybe we have lost something of the wonder and awe of Godhead? Isn’t that what Peter, James and John experienced? Then when Jesus was revealed in his godhead, they were terrified.
In a way, the Transfiguration is a timely reminder to us that we cannot fully know Christ through our own understanding and by our own strength alone.
Martin Luther in his Small Catechism says: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…”
So it’s through the Holy Spirit that God is revealed to us. The other reading set for today comes from 2 Peter. The author says: We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
But he goes on to add: For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Transfiguration—changes our understanding of Christ. Revealed in all his glory. Acknowledged by God as his only son. This is the sudden realisation that the 3 disciples were given—did not at first fully appreciate what they were seeing.
We also cannot fully know Jesus through our own understanding and strength alone. He is only revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. But this is the message of transfiguration Sunday. May God the Father richly bless us, for through his Spirit alone we can fully know his Son. Amen