By the Rev. Darren Miner
Having just heard the story of the Transfiguration of our Lord, you might very well think that today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Well, it isn’t! Transfiguration Day falls on August 6. Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and this day brings the Epiphany Season to a liturgical close. It does this by bringing us back full circle to the theme of manifestation. (As you may know, the English word epiphany derives from the Greek word for manifestation.) The season started on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, with the telling of the story of the Magi. That story focused on the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of a few nameless wise men. Today’s Gospel story looks at another epiphany, the divine manifestation of Christ to his three closest disciples: Peter, James, and John.
On the mountain top, we are told, Jesus was transformed in the presence of these disciples. And they got just a glimpse of Jesus’ divine glory. In Mark’s account, which was read today, only Jesus’ clothes are resplendent. In Matthew’s account, Jesus’ face is said to shine like the sun, just as Moses’ face shone when he came down from Mount Sinai. In this vision, the three disciples see Jesus talking with two famous figures from the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah. Here, I suspect, we find ourselves in the realm of the symbolic, with Moses symbolizing the Law and Elijah symbolizing the Prophets. The disciples’ vision of these two biblical figures in conversation with Jesus signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets. He is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, foretold in Hebrew Scripture.
Next, we come to Peter’s odd response to this vision of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. We are told that he offers to build three dwellings—one for each of them. More literally translated, Peter offers to build three tabernacles. (Now, a tabernacle is a kind of temporary shelter, like a tent or a hut.) The Evangelist offers an excuse for Peter’s strange behavior, that he was so terrified that he didn’t know how to respond. Even so, why offer to build three tabernacles? 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 will keep the Jewish feast of Tabernacles and build tabernacles in the Lord’s honor. So, Peter may have offered to build three tabernacles in order to fulfill that prophecy. If so, he was mistaken about the meaning of this vision, for it was not, it turns out, the Last Day.
But Peter, along with James and John, did not have long to wait before the true import of the vision was made clear to them—by God’s own voice. Just as with Moses on Mount Sinai, God spoke from a cloud. He told the three disciples, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
With this, the purpose of the vision is made clear: to convince the disciples that Jesus is God’s own Son and to exhort them to listen to Jesus. That very same message surely applies to us as well. We too are called to recognize the divine authority of Jesus and to listen to him, in every sense of the word. Now, let me say a bit more about that command to listen. The Greek underlying the phrase “Listen to him” has a range of possible translations. It can mean simply to hear what Jesus has to say. It can mean to study under Jesus as his disciple. Or it can mean to obey him. Now, we don’t have to pick just one translation, for in this case, all three translations apply equally well!
But I would like to take things one step further. Don’t just listen to Christ’s words. Don’t just study his teachings. Don’t just obey his commandments. “Crank it up a notch,” and become little Christs. Like our Master, become lights shining out of darkness. For that is your calling.
At baptism, you were not only washed clean of your sins in the sacred water, you were also anointed with the Holy Spirit. In other words, you became an Anointed One, another Christ, if you will! And have you ever wondered why a candle is presented to the newly minted Christian? Well, that candle, lighted from the great Paschal Candle, is intended to convey the message that every baptized person is a divine spark thrown off by that great Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Through Holy Baptism, the sacrament of illumination, we come to share in the divine energies of the Christ. And according to the teachings of the Church Fathers, each of us is ultimately destined for union with God. Now, such union requires great spiritual growth. For most of us, it’s the work of a lifetime—and for some of us, it may take even longer than that! But through a slow and arduous process of purification and spiritual illumination, we can hope to draw closer and closer to God and to reflect ever more brightly the Light of Christ.
Now, if you are wondering what it takes to get started on this journey into Light, I have a little story that just may help. It’s an ancient tale about two Christian hermits living in the Egyptian desert, Abba Lot and Abba Joseph:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace. And as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. And he said to him, “If you are willing, you can become all flame.”
I now say to you what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: If you are willing, you too can be transfigured into flame. You too can be a light that shines from out of the darkness. You too can manifest the Light of Christ to the world…if you are but willing!
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.