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Transfiguration Epiphany 5 February 10, 2013

During my school years, I did two things that I just loved. I danced and I sang. I took dance classes at the children’s museum once a week. At the end of the year, we would have a recital. We would all dress up in costumes and tell a story through our dance. I was transfigured by dancing. We have a picture of me in a pink tutu with my face shining. It was a glimpse of me at my happiest. I sang everywhere, but I really remember my choir years. Once we took a trip to Washington Cathedral to sing. We got to tour the place, which was not yet finished, and sing a concert. Somewhere I have pictures of that experience. Once again, I was wearing something different and my face was shining with happiness. Again, I came as close to being transfigured as a person could be. When I sang and danced, I was the real me, doing something I loved. My identity was Ann the singer or Ann the dancer.

Jesus’ transfiguration is of course of a different magnitude altogether, but it shows his identity just as my moments did. How do we look at the awesome event of the transfiguration? One of the other hats I wore in school was writer for the school newspaper, living with the questions of who, what, when, where, how and why. Today we are going to imagine Jesus’ transfiguration as a story that appears in the first century equivalent of a newspaper to see what nuggets we can draw from it to reflect on what transfiguration meant for him and what it means for us.

The headline of the story would read, “Jesus’ Identity Revealed on a Mountain”. The who of the story is first Jesus. He is the focus of the action, the receiver of the glory. But there are other whos as well. Moses and Elijah, representing Israel’s past and future, are there. There are the disciples Peter, James and John, who are there to learn about Jesus, to hear God’s message and to deliver it to the world.

The what of the story is the revelation of Jesus’ identity in the transfiguration. Jesus was praying and his face began to shine and his clothes became dazzling white. His face shining is reminiscent of Moses’ face shining when he returns from speaking with God on Mount Sinai, putting Jesus in continuity with Israel’s past. The presence of Elijah put him in continuity with the future as a prophet like Elijah was supposed to herald the end times. His clothes turning a dazzling white signify glorification by God because the Hebrew Scriptures talk of angels being dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear to speak with Jesus about his coming departure – his rejection, suffering and death in Jerusalem. The word used for departure is exodos, which means route out of or escape route. The Israelites escaped from the Egyptians in their exodus, and Jesus would help captive humanity escape sin and death in his exodus. (Laurence Hall Stookey)

The when of the story is significant. It is eight days after Peter has acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, a time when the disciples were reeling about the horrible things Jesus said he had to undergo. They had been told that if they would be his followers they had to deny themselves and pick up their crosses, too. Before the transfiguration, Jesus had a teaching, healing and feeding ministry, mostly in Judea, but shortly after the transfiguration, he sets his face toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion.

The where of the story is on a mountaintop. Mountaintops were where people met God in Jesus’ time. The where of the transfiguration’s aftermath is also important. After the mountaintop experience, Jesus and the disciples return to the world below, where there is brokenness in the epileptic child and brokenness because the disciples, who had been given the power to cast out demons earlier in the gospel, could not do it this time. There is brokenness in the individual and institutional sin in the world. But God is on the move literally. Jesus goes up the mountain, rests there awhile and comes down the mountain to the real world. The revelation of the transfiguration has taken place in the real world because God was incarnate in Jesus in the real world to bring the kingdom of God on earth.

How did the transfiguration unfold? We have said what happened to Jesus. Now let us turn to the disciples. Peter, James and John have come with Jesus at his request, but they are very sleepy. They probably missed the conversation that occurred between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, but they saw the glory of the three men. Peter, who did not want to hear what Jesus had to say about suffering and death and wanted to preserve the moment, volunteers to build booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to dwell in. There is in all of us a very human desire to preserve the “highs” in life we experience, and we can all understand what Peter was trying to do. Then a cloud came and overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud stating the purpose of the revelation, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him”. God wanted Peter, James and John to listen to what Jesus was saying about how God was working in the world through his Son. Glory there was and would be again, but only after the suffering and death of the Cross, just as Jesus had said. The disciples were awestruck at the glory and frightened by the cloud. Though they wanted the revelation to last forever, there was no doubt some relief when their friend and master appeared alone again. Then they all went back down the mountain to their everyday lives. The disciples told no one what they had seen, probably because they still could not take it all in and make meaning of it for their lives.

Finally there is the why of the story. Why the transfiguration? The transfiguration is for Jesus. Jesus has just told the disciples about his future, which he is not looking forward to, but he knows it is God’s will. The transfiguration moment gives him strength and helps him set his face toward Jerusalem. He accepts that all he will undergo is part of God’s plan and he has chosen to be obedient to his Father’s will. The transfiguration is for the disciples. After the shocking revelation about what the rest of Jesus’ ministry would lead to, the disciples need help to believe, help to continue to hope in Jesus as the savior of the world, help to follow him.

And the transfiguration is for us. Just like Jesus’ early disciples, we need a sign that Jesus is the one whom God has sent to save, redeem and liberate us. We need to know that despite our brokenness, we are loved and cared for by a God who invaded the world, not to destroy it, but to save it. We need to know that Jesus is fulfilling God’s promises, set forth in the law and the prophets, and we can trust God to continue to be present with us in God’s in-breaking kingdom.

Finally, we need the transfiguration as a model for how we in our own communities of faith can be transfigured by God’s love at work among us. Sometimes when we find ourselves in the midst of worrying about money and about numbers, we can lose our sense of purpose, our sense of mission, our discernment about what God is calling us to do. But God is calling us to do something. Right now, the Holy Spirit is at work among us bringing “Jesus moments” into our lives as the transfiguration revealed Jesus to the disciples as the promised one they had been waiting for. We are experiencing a “Jesus moment” in our Family Ministries program. We have been gifted by God with the energy of Beth Cavey and her volunteers. We have been gifted with a $1500 grant from the Mustard Seed Fund of the diocese – $500 more than we asked for. We are supposed to be doing this ministry.

Thanks to the generosity of the people of God in this place, we feed people who ordinarily would have empty refrigerators if they had a refrigerator at all. We give to AFAC and bag lunches for the Bailey’s Crossroads Shelter, making it possible for people to eat healthy meals. We just received a letter of thanks from the Salvation Army for our Angel Tree gifts that helped 35 children have something under the tree at Christmas. We are transfigured when we faithfully listen to Jesus and following his will.

The Transfiguration reveals Jesus’ divine identity and starts us on the journey to the cross – a perfect place for Epiphany to end and Lent to begin. As you go about following Jesus by praying and discerning what God is calling you to do, may your faces shine with God’s love so that others may see it and know the astonishing gift we have been given in Jesus.


  - Rev. Ann Barker