3/3/2019 Transfiguration of Our Lord The text is Luke 28:28-36.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
For over two years, the disciples follow Jesus. They experience the crowds which press in on them, bringing the sick and lame to be healed. They hear the scorching accusations and the rebukes of Pharisees and scribes. They listen to the soothing, and sometimes fiery, words of Jesus who sits down with them and opened scriptures to them. But nothing that these men see or hear fully prepare them for what is to come.
With the time growing short, Jesus is as blunt as he can be in foretelling the events that are about to unfold. But these men do not want to hear and believe his words for Jesus’ prediction of suffering and death does not fit into their plans and their image of the messiah. So, eight days after Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ whom God had sent to Israel…eight short days after Jesus shared with his disciples his vision of the future, a future in which the Son of Man will suffer rejection by the leaders, chief priest and scribes, and be killed and on the third day, come back to life…eight days after the disciples reject the notion that this could happen…Jesus takes Peter and James and John and goes up the mountain to pray. He goes up the mountain to pray as he is about to go into Jerusalem and face the cross.
While he prays, the heavens are opened and Jesus’ appearance changes before the disciple’s eyes. In the flash of a moment, what was is no more. Jesus is somehow changed, and he is no longer alone. Moses, the lawgiver, the one who lead the people of Israel out of Egypt into the promise land, and Elijah, the venerated prophet who was assumed into heaven in a chariot of fire and whose appearance was expected before the coming of Christ, stand there with Jesus. It is an overwhelming sight! And the disciples are terrified at this mountaintop experience.
Now, most of us have them…yes, they’ve been very different from the experience of the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration…but most of us have had them…those things we call mountaintop experiences. They are moments in time which change our perspective on life. The experience can be exhilarating, and can come as a result of graduation, baptism, your first kiss, your first day on the job, your wedding, the birth of a child, or maybe something as simple as catching your first fish. But the experience can also be one that is full of awe – something unexpected, something out of the blue, something you have trouble believing – like winning the Publisher’s Clearing House or hearing the words, “I love you” off the lips of someone you never thought really cared about you, or it can come as it did to me as a result of serving communion for the first time. You know you are having one of those moments as your heart beats out of your chest, tears well in your eyes, your mouth drops open and you find yourself unable to speak. You are captured by the moment.
These are mountaintop experiences and they are wonderful. They can excite us. They can invigorate us. They can give us a sense of fulfillment. They can give us hope. But, if they don’t empower us for what lies ahead, they serve no purpose.
We may want to stay on the apex, but we can’t. The disciples would have liked to have captured their moment on that mountaintop and put it on display, but they couldn’t. The trick is to know when to put the experience behind us and to move back, transformed, into daily life.
When Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, he is not looking for a mountaintop experience, but God responds to him but giving him what he needs in order to help him fulfill his mission. God gives him a foretaste of his future to strengthen him for the days ahead. Peter and James and John, the three disciples that Jesus takes with him, are not expecting a mountaintop experience. But, by their presence, they also receive what they need on that day. They get a glimpse into the future, to the fulfillment of God’s promise of deliverance, and to a time in which all of God’s chosen will gather with Jesus. And yet, in the time to come, not even this experience will be enough to dispel the fears of the disciples and give them courage and faith when Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried. Their eyes which shine with the brightness of Christ’s glory on this day will still become darkened by fear when facing the reality of death.
My friends, in spite of the mountaintop experiences we have, there will still be struggles and doubts, fears and anxiety to overcome in life, but as the three disciples experienced, we, too, have the assurance that God is with us and will keep his promises. And with this assurance, we can come down from the mountaintop and meet the challenges that lie ahead. Surely Jesus and the disciples have to come down and move on to Jerusalem, the cross, the grave, the resurrection and to the ministry that is and will be set before them. But, they do this with the assurance of God’s grace and mercy and a vision of the glory that is to come.
The other nine disciples miss out on that day. But, maybe the other nine have had their mountaintop experiences as they witnessed Jesus’ healing of the leper or giving sight to the blind or walking on water or feeding the crowd. For what empowers and invigorates one person may not have the same effect on another. All we know is that Peter and James and John are with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and see what takes place, and this experience prepares them for a special witness and ministry.
May each of us be so lucky as to have an experience of such magnitude in our lives so that we may be strengthened by a vision of the fulfillment of God’s promises. And, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.