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Feb. 11 Transfiguration Sunday MK 9:2-9
Transfiguration Sunday is the bridge between the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle that draws to a close today and the Lent-Easter cycle that begins 3 days from now with Ash Wednesday. In the forthcoming 40 days of Lent, when we consider the meaning and consequence of Christ’s crucifixion, the momentary dazzling vision of Christ’s glory even as Jesus faces his impending death can deepen our faith. Christ’s transfiguration, when his face shone like the sun and his clothes were dazzling light, is as integral to the identity of Christ as is the darkness that enveloped the cross when he gave up his spirit. But the darkness could not overcome the light.
As we read in our gospel text, in and through the brilliant light of Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of the glory of God on Mount Hermon, at 9200 feet the highest peak in the region of Caesarea Philippi. It has been 6 days since Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” And only moments later to be rebuked by Jesus, “Get behind me Satan, for you not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of men.”
The mountaintop event of our Lord’s Transfiguration certainly qualifies as one of the things of God. It was powerful, fearful and unforgettable. The Greek word for transfiguration used in the NT (metamorphoo) is translated in English as “metamorphosis” which means transformation or transmutation. Science uses the word to describe the process when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon.
Metamorphoo is used four times in the NT where is translated twice as, "transfigured," and twice as, "transformed." In their recordings of this event, MT and Mark translate metamorphoo as “transfigured.” A generation later, the apostle Paul twice rendered it as “transformed.” Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good, acceptable and perfect.” 2 Cor. 3:18 says “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The metamorphosis of Jesus on the mountain brings the brilliant reality of the kingdom of God into the broken condition of the kingdom of this world. A glimpse of the true nature of Jesus breaks through as his face shines like the sun and two central leaders of Israel's history, Moses and Elijah, join him in his glory. The presence of Moses and Elijah are God’s way of teaching the 3 disciples, and consequently all the followers of Christ, that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the goal of God’s salvation.
What was begun in the Law and in the Prophets will be completed through Jesus Christ. It is no accident that only Jesus was transfigured here, and when the cloud of God lifted only Jesus stood among the 3 apostles. Jesus remained as the sole bearer of God’s new revelation, yet to be unveiled in the cross and in the resurrection.
To be sure, Peter, James and John would falter in the face of the cross, but after Pentecost all that changed. Their fear and doubt gave way to courage and trust in a mighty way. But on this day, on top of Mt. Hermon, the light of Christ is so brilliant, so powerful that the three disciples fall to the ground overwhelmed by fear. And yes, some momentary, almost comical, confusion about it occurred too. But this experience will eventually help transform these 3 men and send them out into the world in power. The transfiguration of Christ engendered the metamorphosis of Jesus’ followers who will then bring the message of God's transforming power to the world.
A generation later, in 2 Peter 1:16-19 Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ… For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased…We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
For Peter, the medium of Christ’s transfiguration becomes the message of the world’s transformation. In other words, what took place on the mountaintop must be brought into the day to day lives of God's people.
"You will do well to be attentive..." are not words intended only for the immediate readers of 2 Peter- they are for all who believe and confess Jesus Christ is Lord.
Peter, James and John all accompanied Jesus from their glory-filled mountain top experiences to a fractured world in need of redemption. The mountain top experience was not given so that they could simply remember the day with amazement and excitement. Rather, it was given so that they might proclaim to those they meet, "We have been eyewitnesses... "You will do well to be attentive!"
Abigail Ross and her current mission work in Mexico is a marvelous example of someone who has been attentive to God. Someone who has understood and answered the call be transformed and who seeks to transform those she encounters with the light of the gospel.
Friends in Christ, as we move from the Mount of the Transfiguration to Mount Calvary, let us remember that faithfulness to Christ is not achieved by “freezing” a transcendent, supernatural moment of one manner or another- but by following Christ down to the everyday tasks and struggles that give our Christian lives real and lasting meaning and purpose.
Whether we serve Christ in the Gallatin Valley or across the sea at Christ’s Gift Academy in Kenya, we are to live with a full confidence that, in Christ, we have emerged from our old metaphorical cocoons of sin, fear and despair. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:18, “…seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, (we) are being transformed into the same image…”
In Christ, we have been freed from darkness, transformed into his image, and brought into his truth, his love and his grace. So now, on behalf of our glorious and gracious God who has sent to us his beloved Son, let us, each in our own way, faithfully attend to learning God’s word, to attend to the needs of others, and to attend to the task of bringing the gospel to those who have yet to hear it in a broken and hurting world. May the light and love of Christ, shine forth in all of our words and deeds.