It’s the listening that counts!
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36 ESV)
Today as we conclude the time after The Epiphany – we began with star light and the light is getting brighter as Jesus’ identity is revealed – by voice and dove at his baptism, changing water into wine, even in rejection, and then there’s all those healings and exorcisms where the demons knew the truth – Jesus is the Holy One of God – so by now we are blinded, as it were, on the mountain top as Jesus is transfigured – he is shining – “dazzling white” says Luke. We know the story, we’re used to it – Epiphany and its echoes focus on Jesus and so do we – but did the disciples? And what should we keep our focus on?
It is eight days after Jesus has accepted Peter’s confession that he is the “Christ of God” and he has taught them that this means he will suffer and die and that those who follow him are to take up their cross and lose their life to save it. Jesus has taken three disciples – Peter, James, and John – a type of inner circle – onto the mountain to pray and the disciples have fallen asleep. They awaken – my guess is because they heard voices – and now they spot Jesus “dazzling white” and two men – Moses and Elijah who have appeared in glory. Was it like an open door and light streaming out onto them or were they ‘glowing’ too? Without wishing to sound like an ad for washing detergent, which is brighter – Jesus “dazzling white” or Moses’ and Elijah’s “glory”? We have no way of knowing but we do know that Peter wants to stop Moses and Elijah leaving because he makes his rambling comment about making tents for the three of them as the two new comers are departing.
Here’s a hypothetical … did Peter want to keep Moses and Elijah there because they were more important than Jesus? As they were the summary of Peter’s scripture – the Law and the Prophets – was he thinking that they’re the ‘power’ behind Jesus? Did he think – hmm, Jesus hasn’t glowed before – these two are here – Moses’ face once shone in the presence of God – Elijah was taken up to heaven – they’ve now come down and Jesus is glowing because he’s talking with them?
Because we know this story and what happened to Jesus and who Jesus is clearly and unambiguously my hypothetical is viewed as back to front – Moses and Elijah are in glory because they are again in the personal space of God. But Peter wakes up from a sound sleep to this – and I think he doesn’t know cause and effect. In one sense the matter is moot as the cloud gets in the way – and this theophany – this appearance of God – concludes the whole scene – and the disciples are afraid (Matthew records that they fell on their faces – that is, they don’t want to see – they don’t want to die) – for in the cloud God is hidden but very present and he has now turned up – so who cares about the three glowing men? And the voice says clearly “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”.
And in the next moment there is just four people – no brightness, no cloud – just three disciples looking at Jesus and possibly each other trying to work out what they’ve just witnessed.
So what do the disciples focus on? We know that they stay silent about the transfiguration – that includes we assume the other nine disciples not knowing for the time being. If Peter wanted to sell tickets and start a religious theme park or if he wanted to keep Moses and Elijah ‘on tap’ as back up proof that Jesus is the Messiah then he’s going to be unhappy because the mojo is gone – no special effects left – nothing to show anyone – all they have are the words.
But that’s what God said isn’t it? “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” That’s the focus – Jesus – shining or not – and his words – listen to him – which isn’t referring to audibly hearing him as some sort religious musak – but listening, taking in, trusting, obeying.
Why? Why should they? Why should we?
Because Jesus was transfigured?
The world would probably say a big ‘yes – sure if I saw Jesus glow I’m on his side’. I think many Christians would say likewise. ‘We’re on the side of power – Jesus is a superman – the best body guard around – yes, I want to see him glow, I want the miracles.’
Me? I’m not sure at all. I keep thinking perversely of Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur is trying to tell some peasants that he’s king because the Lady of the Lake had given him Excalibur only to be told that “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!”. Arthur’s fantastic experience is belittled and reinterpreted by others. That’s how it is with the miraculous – they are signs only to those who already believe – for others they are pieces of evidence to any conclusion you might care to make. On top of that a glowing person is not necessarily a good thing if he’s out to get you and there is a big leap to claim that a powerful Jesus won’t just snot you when he gets up close.
Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah – or were they talking to him? – or were they talking together? – about Jesus’ departure – his exodus – which Luke says Jesus would accomplish at Jerusalem. Again we have the link, the reminder of the Old Testament and the rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Were Moses and Elijah there as cheer squad or as trainers in a boxing match – “nearly there boss – only three more rounds to go”? Or was Jesus’ lost or had he forgotten the plot and needed a prompt? Hardly, since he, eight days earlier, spoke of his suffering and death.
Again, I wonder whether there isn’t a double meaning here – an obvious one considering the outcome on the cross and why we’re here today in church as followers of Jesus – hmmm … listening to him – but also the struggle that Jesus must have gone through to follow the Father’s will – to drink the cup to the bitter dregs – and maybe … maybe Jesus was about to depart from earth back to heaven – and Moses and Elijah came and spoke their words – the torah and the prophetic promises which Jesus would fulfil – for Jesus himself relied on God’s Word. The Word made flesh relies and trusts God’s word – that’s like trying to unravel the mystery of the Trinity. But it really suggests something – that someone “dazzling white” – ie., powerful – praying to God – discusses his exodus – a rescue – is it of himself from suffering or you from suffering?
And that is why we listen to Jesus!! He rescued us from suffering and hell and death and sin and guilt and shame and every single thing that darkens our lives. Whatever that conversation – we can’t eavesdrop – what we know is that Jesus – true man – truly completely human – and yet truly God – is here to give his life for you and for me. The transfiguration shuts us up – so we can listen – God suffered and died for me!
You know I sometimes wish I could get everyone in Brandon / Coventry / East Kilbride to come here and see the spiritual reality of worship – it’d be cool if the bread and wine of Holy Communion was transfigured – glowing little suns that we eat and drink as we receive Jesus. Then the stupid world would take notice! Silly me! Of course not – the circus crowd would get bored after a while – make the glow green this week – how about red?! What we still need to do is what the disciples learnt. Listen to the words: take and eat and take and drink – this is my body – this is my blood – go and sin no more – depart in peace – take up your cross and follow me – I will be with you to the end of the age.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” As we read, study, mediate, and pray God’s Word so we meet Jesus – as we worship and encounter the visible words of Baptism and Holy Communion so we meet Jesus – and he still is the light of the world – the only one who can truly lift any and all darknesses.
- Luke 9:28 - 36