By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is one of a very few feasts that are of such importance that they take precedence over a Sunday. In the appointed readings, we hear about two epiphanies. First, we hear about a very early epiphany to Moses on Mount Sinai—the prototypical mountaintop experience, you might say. Then we hear St. Peter’s brief recollection of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Finally, we hear a somewhat fuller account of the Transfiguration excerpted from Luke’s Gospel.
In that account, Jesus is transfigured on the top of Mount Tabor in the presence of the three disciples who formed his inner circle: Peter, John, and James. And these select few are granted a vision of the Uncreated Light of God, a glimpse of Jesus’ hidden glory. We are told that his face, and even his clothing, emitted a dazzling light, just as Moses’ face shone when he came down from Mount Sinai. The three disciples see Jesus talking with two famous figures from the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah, with Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets. Their appearance confirms to the three disciples that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah, foretold in Holy Scripture. He is, in fact, the Light of the World.
Next, we come to Peter’s odd response to the vision. He offers to build tabernacles for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. (Now, a tabernacle is a kind of temporary shelter, like a tent or a hut.) St. Luke explains that Peter did not know what he was saying. In other words, he was speaking irrationally. Well, just maybe he did know what he was saying! One possibility is that Peter thought that the Day of Judgment had arrived. According to the prophet Zechariah, after the coming of the Lord on the Day of Judgment, the whole world would keep the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and build tabernacles in the Lord’s honor. So, Peter may have offered to build three tabernacles for the express purpose of fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy. If that is the case, Peter was mistaken, but not irrational.
Peter, along with John and James, did not have long to wait before the true import of the vision was made clear. God speaks to them from a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” God himself tells the disciples that the point of the vision is twofold: to convince them that Jesus is, in fact, God’s beloved Son; and to command them to listen to Jesus.
That same message surely applies to us as well. But, unlike, Peter, John, and James, we have not experienced the Transfiguration of Jesus, at least not firsthand. Even so, we are expected to believe that Jesus was, and is, God’s beloved Son. Why should we, though? What is the evidence? The short answer is the Gospels. These four short accounts of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection were written so that later generations might encounter Jesus for themselves and believe. When I was in my early thirties, I finally got around to reading them; I encountered Jesus; and I joined the Episcopal Church. That encounter with Jesus has continued to transform my life, to transfigure it. How, I wonder, have you been transfigured by your encounter with Jesus? More than you even realize, I’d wager!
Now, let me say a bit more about that command to listen. The Greek phrase underlying the English command “Listen to him” has a range of possible interpretations, three of which are pertinent: 1) it can mean simply to hear what Jesus has to say; 2) it can mean to obey his commands; and 3) it can mean to be his disciples.
So, let’s consider each of these three possible meanings and what they mean for us today. The first is the command to hear Jesus’ words. Now, admittedly you can stay home and read the Gospels out loud to yourselves and thus fulfill this commandment. But there is a better way. You can come to church week by week and hear the voice of a fellow believer read out Jesus’ words to you, perhaps emphasizing a word or a phrase that you would not have emphasized. And just maybe, the preacher will then break open Jesus’ words and give them new meaning for you.
The second sense of that Greek phrase is to obey Jesus’ commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; you shall love your neighbor as yourself; and you shall love one another, just as Jesus has loved you.” Just three simple commandments! Now, I call them simple, because they are so easily understood. But as we all know, to love, in the Christian sense of the word, can be one of the hardest things we are ever called to do.
Finally, we come to the third meaning of that Greek phrase, to follow Jesus as a disciple. And this requires more than coming to church on Sundays to hear Jesus’ words. This requires even more than keeping Jesus’ three commandments to love. It requires that we be willing to pay the high cost of discipleship. Jesus’ original disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus. They left behind their families, their homes, and their jobs. Later, Jesus’ disciples would even give up their very lives for the sake of Jesus. Like it or not, we are called to that same level of commitment.
Brothers and sisters, I say again to you what God himself said to Peter, John, and James: “Listen to Jesus’ words! Obey his commands! Follow him as disciples! For he is truly God’s beloved Son and the Light of the world.” And if you believe this in your heart, your life will be transfigured, and you will share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.