By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the story of the Transfiguration completes the season 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 the Feast of the Epiphany with the story of the Magi, symbolizing the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Today’s Gospel story deals with another epiphany, the divine manifestation of Christ to his three closest disciples.
This year, we hear Matthew’s account. And in some ways, his version is the least difficult. In the other accounts, it’s not clear how we are meant to understand this story. Is it real? Is it describing something factual that any bystander would have been able to witness? Matthew’s Gospel helps us here. In this Gospel, Jesus himself refers to what has occurred as a “vision.” Is it real? Yes, but on a level of reality that transcends the everyday. Would any bystander who was at hand have been able to witness this event? Maybe not. Divine visions often belong to the realm of private mystical experience.
Given that the Transfiguration story is a vision, we should not be surprised by the occurrence of symbolism that requires interpretation. And we find such symbolism in the very first words of the account. The Gospel reading starts by telling us that six days after the Confession of Peter, Jesus takes his three closest disciples to a mountain top. Now in the Old Testament, many numbers had special numerological significance. But 6 isn’t one of them. There is only one place where the number 6 has a special significance—in the story of Moses on Mt. Sinai that we heard read in the first reading. For six days, a cloud covered Mt. Sinai; on the seventh day, God spoke to Moses from the cloud. In the story of the Transfiguration, the very timing of the event has symbolic significance. It hints that what is about to happen is as momentous as the giving of the Law to Moses.
By the Rev. Darren Miner
We finding ourselves nearing the end of Eastertide. Just two more weeks to go. This coming Thursday is Ascension Day, when the Church commemorates the final farewell of the Risen Christ. The feast of Pentecost is on the 15th, when we will commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Today, it seems, we are meant to look ahead to these two events and to prepare. I suppose that’s why the editors of the lectionary offer a Gospel reading from the farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Because, in this brief excerpt from that long discourse, Jesus tries to prepare his original disciples for his imminent departure from this world and for the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Inexplicably, the editors of the lectionary have omitted the question which prefaces today’s Gospel reading: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” For Jesus had just stated that in a little while the world would no longer see him, but his disciples would see him. As Jesus is wont to do, he offers a response to a question that is not exactly an answer: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Now, he could have just explained that he had been talking about his future Resurrection appearances to the faithful. But instead of answering Judas’ question, Jesus says what he thinks needs to be said. He asks his closest disciples to keep his word, to follow his teachings, to be obedient to his commandments—in short, to stand by him, even when he is gone.
Jesus puts before his disciples a test of their faithfulness: if they love him, they will show it by following the love ethic at the heart of his every word and action. They will love God. The will love their brothers and sisters in Christ. They will love the stranger. They will even love their enemy. Now, by love, Jesus didn’t mean affection. Love for Jesus was less of an emotion and more of an action. You show your love when you feed the hungry. You show your love when you visit the sick. You show your love when you acknowledge the homeless beggar, even if you can’t spare a dime. You show your love when you come to church week after week, even when you feel exhausted. And last but not least, you show your love when you vote for a leader who cares about the weak and welcomes the refugee.