Gospel Reading Matthew 17: 1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
The Feast of the Transfiguration is held in August – it is a big festival in Greece, a big celebration. In our lectionary this reading comes either just before Lent as we are taking it, or on the second Sunday of Lent. Either way it is an irruption into the way things are going. At the end of ch 16 Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah, but he cannot cope with the idea that the Messiah might suffer. He is strongly rebuked by Jesus; the disciple should listen to their teacher, not try and shape them!
So six days later Jesus takes the initiative and takes his key disciples up a mountain; he has something to teach them and through them to us. Jesus is changed, transfigured, (metamorphosed is the Greek word) and the disciples see him in a transcendent form, still human but glorious, as if the light of God from within is shining out unhindered by the earthly form. This would make a powerful but mysterious film scene. suddenly there is also Moses (who had also been to meet God on a mountain and whose face was burnt with glory) and Elijah, who was raised to heaven without dying. We are not told how they knew who they were. There is lots that is left out. Peter, ever one to speak but not always to think first, wants to freeze the moment by building three dwellings (it would take him a while!) Enough! a cloud descends, but a bright cloud not our gloomy dark damp clouds; a voice is heard, and at this point the disciples realise they are in touch with something far bigger than they can cope with; they fall to the ground. The voice repeats what was said at Jesus baptism, but we are commanded to listen to him.
Jesus remains calm and he goes to the disciples, touches them and says “don’t be afraid, get up”. I love this compassionate concern for them, given all that is happening to him.
They look up and Matthew makes very clear that the only person to see is Jesus – ‘they saw no-one except Jesus himself alone!’
This is an important moment – it picks up on the baptism voice, and it points to the Cross and glory; Jesus is seen for who he is God incarnate, the light shining through him. Jewish readers would understand that Jesus is to be understood as transcending Moses (and the Law) and Elijah (who they thought would come to announce the Messiah).
For us, faith can be hard going. Some of us have been blessed with a transfiguration moment when we have had an overpowering sense of God’s presence or peace, in a way we cannot fully explain. And then it is as if nothing has happened. If we have had such a moment we should and can treasure it remembering it while moving forward in what we do. We can pray for such a moment, for ourselves and for others, and without being competitive we can encourage one another with how God has touched us.
Rev Peter Reiss