The Light That Shines Forever

February 19, 2023

Matthew 17:1-9

17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

That video is one that brings me the closest to understanding maybe what the disciples were thinking when Jesus said, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” MLK was asked to give a few remarks at a Mason Temple in TN in support of striking sanitation workers. He was not scheduled to speak that night, but for some reason he did. This would be his last public statement before his assassination. Experts have commented since the event that these brief remarks were a very poignant look into a person who was weighed down by the gravity of the fight for equality and the constant death threats.

Transfiguration Sunday is very much a look into the weight and heaviness of the season we are moving into. This Sunday is an annual celebration as the transition between the season of epiphany and lent. There is joy and there is also a sense of heaviness to it all. The epiphany season began with the arrival of the magi, but they too were forced to return a different way for fear of what Herod might do. Now the events of today bring us full circle into what the established power of the day will pursue.

Our gospel text begins with the words “six days later.” Previously Jesus was with his disciples and asked them who they thought he was. Simon Peter immediately says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then calls him the rock that the church will be bult on which is the Petros in Greek and we know him as Peter from here on. Then Jesus begins to tell them that he was going to experience great suffering and that he will be arrested crucified and then resurrected. Peter freaks and says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus then calls him Satan and says “Get behind me…for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” And now six days later which is two times the amount required for purification because Peter messed up and had to be ritually pure, they climb the mountain.

Crossover to the Exodus reading in which “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.” The mountain has always been the place where the Lord appears. Jesus, the three disciples and Moses all go to the mountaintop and are changed forever by the events that take place.

The disciples witness the glory of God as Jesus is transfigured before their very eyes. “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became bright as light.” While the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they followed a cloud by day and a pillar of light was with them at night as a sign of God’s presence. The light that the disciples saw soon expanded into three people—Moses and Elijah. I don’t believe that formal introductions were made but the disciples knew exactly who they were.

Peter, not learning very quickly says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” This time instead of Jesus having to be the teacher the voice of God is now the ultimate authority. A cloud just like the one that was with Moses now overshadows them all and the booming voice says, “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

If those words sound familiar, they are the same words that were spoken at Jesus baptism. It is also a reminder that the authority with which Jesus speaks come from God. Therefore, the prediction of the passion that Jesus will endure is true. This moment was very profound in the life of Peter as we read in 2 Peter “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Then Peter explains that the prophetic message was fully confirmed by the Holy Spirit spoken from God.

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop is the hope that the disciples were able to hold onto as Jesus made his trip to Jerusalem to go to the cross for the salvation of humankind. We are the beneficiaries of knowing how it all turns out. Jesus will be arrested tried and crucified. But that is not the final word. Jesus will also be resurrected after three days. Jesus will make himself known to the disciples in appearances, the breaking of bread and eating with them.

Jesus was not only transfigured on the mountaintop but he was also in a sense transfigured with the resurrected body on this earth. He was transfigured one more time when he ascended into heaven. We are called to be transfigured on this earth as Christians. We are to listen as God told the disciples on the mountaintop to the Son the beloved One. MLK Jr. in his final words reassured the people in Memphis that he too had been to the mountaintop and his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord.

He worked for people of all color to be allowed the same rights as white people. His life was filled with trials and confrontations because he believed that all people had the same rights and privileges no matter the color of their skin. MLK Jr. listened to Jesus when he said blessed are you who are persecuted on account of me in the Beatitudes. Jesus came to eat with the sinners and the outcast as did MLK. They were the same only their names were prejudice, racism, color and class.

Our transfiguration moments come when we too listen to Jesus and love our neighbor as ourself. There is a huge world out there and we may not feel like we are making much progress some days. But we have to remember that our actions are not in a vacuum. Our actions with the help of God will make a difference for someone in our midst if we are listening to the Son, the Beloved One.

We have a hope in the one who was transfigured that we too will experience the day when we see the glory of the Lord. Preparing ourselves to move into the season of Lent we should ask ourselves what needs transfiguring this year in our lives, our thoughts, our attitudes, and beliefs? May we walk in the light of the transfiguration as we set our hearts toward Jerusalem. Amen.

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