When we think of the hymn Tell me the stories of Jesus. The story of the Transfiguration is not one that immediately comes to mind. It may be a fascinating story that gives us key insights into who Jesus is and how his presence is understood within the framework of the Old Testament. What it is not is our go to story that we want to share about Jesus.
Scripture: Luke 9: 28-36
I would like you to think about your favourite story from scripture that involves Jesus. Picture it in your mind. Think about the familiar words, take a moment and reflect on it.
The Good Samaritan. The raising of Lazarus. Healing a blind man. The Sermon on the Mount. The woman at the well. Feeding the 5000. The death and resurrection.
When we think of well-known stories of Jesus, these are the ones that come to mind.
The Transfiguration is not a story that immediately come to mind when we think about why we believe in Jesus. In fact many commentators agree that if we didn’t give the Transfiguration its own day in the church year, it might be a piece of scripture that we just don’t consider all that often. As it is, this is the Sunday that bridges Epiphany and Lent. It is a transitional day in the church year.
There are a variety of elements that we could consider in this piece of scripture. We could focus exclusively on the transfiguration of Jesus. Perhaps we could spend time discussing the actions of Peter and the other disciples. Why did they not share what they witnessed? We could dig deep into the theological significance of this passage, about what it tells about Jesus and God. Today, I want to focus on Moses and Elijah. Specifically, what they discuss with Jesus as Luke records it.
The Good News Bible provides the following translation, “Suddenly two men were there talking to Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in heavenly glory and talked with Jesus about the way in which he would soon fulfill God’s purpose by dying in Jerusalem.”
The NIV and NRSV translate it slightly differently, “Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus, his departure. Which he would accomplish in Jerusalem. Let’s be clear, that they are talking about Jesus’ death, which the Good News translation makes clear through its paraphrase of the Greek.
Moses represents the law and Elijah the prophets. In this passage Luke ties together how Jesus fulfills the expectations of the people as expressed in the Old Testament. Yet, the three, Jesus, Moses and Elijah, didn’t discuss the law or the challenge of teaching God’s people. They talked about how Jesus was going to depart. The Greek word for depart is ‘exodus’.
Both Moses and Elijah experienced an exodus. They know what it is like, what it feels like. Have you ever been travelling, driving maybe and someone who you are travelling with says, “Do you know where our destination is?” And the response is, “I’ll know it when I see it.” We look for landmarks. Moses and Elijah, they see all the landmarks of an exodus in Jesus.
What is it that Jesus is departing from? Where will his exodus take him? Is his departure as simple as his death?
No. It is release from death, evident in the resurrection, made visible in Christ’s ascension.
The moment that we discuss the departure of Jesus, when we talk about his exodus. Is also the moment that his glory is most evidently put on display when he is transfigured. The departure of Jesus, his exodus, is the moment on the cross when all are forgiven by and through the grace of God. In that moment we are forgiven and encouraged to live as children of God.
Moses led the people of Israel for forty years in the desert. They were a people oppressed and enslaved. Their moment of liberation, a moment that Moses himself never witnessed, occurs when they cross over into the promised land. At that moment they know God’s glory and begin life anew as children of God. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” we witness that episode coming to fruition at the end of Exodus.
How do we react to all of this? Often, we react like Peter. We want to keep it all for ourselves. We find a piece of glory and we want to keep it secret.
There is a waterfall I know of in Scotland. It is on the brochure of a B&B I stayed at years ago with my family. It’s found at the end of a two or three hour walk, nothing arduous. But you crest a hill and the valley opens up before you. A small span bridge crosses a river and with a boothy behind it. A boothy is a house where shepherds would spend the night while out with their flocks. Now, they are used by hikers. Behind the boothy is a hill with a waterfall cascading from it, the pool of water at the bottom is shallow, warm and perfect for wading.
When I first crested that hill it took my breath away. It is in my mind a slice of heaven.
Now what you need to know about this waterfall is even though it is on the cover of a brochure, there is no map to direct you. It took my four days of searching, of making other two- and three-hour hikes to finally find the right path, but when I did. Wow.
Inside the boothy is a guest book. The front cover of the guest book encourages you to write your name and share where you are from. It also indicates that this place is special and not to tell people where it is. That others should discover it themselves. I’ve kept the secret of where it’s located for close to 18 years and I look forward to going back on day. If you are interested in finding it, I’ll point you in the right direction, but you will need to walk most of that journey of discovery yourself.
We keep glory to ourselves. Peter isn’t trying to keep Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain top, he is trying to hold on to the slice of glory that he has witnessed. He doesn’t want it to end because deep down I believe that Peter knew what it meant. Peter in that moment experienced the radical, unleashed, raw power of God’s grace. And I have to believe it felt so good, like when on an overcast day when the clouds part and the sun washes over you. You feel the warmth of the sun right into the core of your being and something about it stirs your soul.
That’s how Peter felt and he didn’t want to let it go. In that moment when Peter saw the glory of God in Jesus he knew freedom, his soul was liberated.
Karoline Lewis writes, “…when glory might mean liberation, to what extent it then binds us to commitments and concerns that we would rather pass over, dismiss, or defer. Because once you commit to a “let my people go” kind of life, you should expect demands on your own life” (reference).
Our job, as followers of Jesus Christ is not to keep the news of his glory to ourselves. We are not to keep news about his departure silent. As we get set to embark on the journey towards Jerusalem through the season of Lent, we are called to share the glory. Afterall, the glory was never ours. It belongs to God and we are encouraged to stand in its light. The wonderful part is that there is ample room for more people to join us. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.