Readings: Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9
The preacher’s 5 year-old daughter noticed that her preacher father always paused and bowed his head for a moment before starting his sermon. One day she asked him why. “Well, Honey,” he began, proud that his daughter was so observant of his messages, “I’m asking the Lord to help me to preach a good sermon.” “Well then, how come He doesn’t do it?” she asked.
I love being part of a tradition that keeps the liturgical calendar and preaches the lectionary. We journey together, as the people of God, through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It is one of the ways we mirror the ancient people of God, always on the move, from slavery to freedom, from the wilderness to the Promised Land, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the Cross to the Resurrection.
And like the people of God from ancient times, there are moments where we are to pause and consider how God would have us understand the past, sense God’s presence in the now, in order to face the challenges ahead of us, in hope.
A Journey up the Mountain
Today’s gospel reading captures one of these moments as Jesus and his disciples’ journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus leads his inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up a ‘high’ mountain (not to be confused with the ‘low’ mountain on which he delivered the Sermon on the Mount). Readers will quickly recall that Moses met with God on a similar mountain, generations earlier. On that mountain, God’s glory is marked by blazing fire and an enveloping cloud. Moses speaks directly with God, who gives the Law to teach the people about who they are and how they are to live as the unique people of God.
On today’s mountain, there is another profound revelation: Jesus’ face shines like the sun, his clothes are made dazzling white. And two giants in the faith, Moses and Elijah, are suddenly present, conversing with Jesus. Peter takes up his role as speaking for all of us, fumbling and bumbling his way through the experience, offering to make shelters for them all. Perhaps he is looking to domesticate this incredible experience in order to make sense of it, in order to preserve it. Or perhaps he is offering holy hospitality to these mystical figures. In either case, his efforts are interrupted by the divine voice affirming Christ as God’s own Son. “Listen to him!” the Voice declares.
The Transfiguration and Vestry
I like that the story of the Transfiguration often falls on or near Vestry Sunday. It’s a great reading for this time in the calendar. Far more than a business meeting, Vestry provides us an opportunity to pause on our journey as the people of God at St. George’s/John’s. We remember the ways God has been faithful to us this past year, through all the ups and downs, in the joys and the sorrows. We face the reality of the challenges in front of us – the financial concerns, the many of our faithful flock who are no longer with us, a rapidly changing society that does not readily see the need for faith, let alone Church. We need fresh vision to inspire us onwards.
The Transfiguration reminds us that our vision must always be that of the Transfigured Christ – knowable, yet unknown, revealed yet mysterious, always more than we can ask for or imagine. But the setting of the story is also helpful for us today. It is sandwiched between two instances where Jesus warns his disciples about the suffering he would experience at Jerusalem. The gospel writer makes it clear that they are on their way to Passion Week, but they are not to undertake this dangerous and frightful journey without first a vision of hope.
The Transfigured Christ is one bearing the signs of Resurrection – he shines with light and life. And he is given a word of confirmation that would also wring in the disciples’ ears: He is God’s Son. That same word was given at the beginning of their ministry journey together, at Jesus’ own baptism. The Divine Voice repeats this affirmation so that we may all know that the one who is to suffer and die, whose call the disciples (and all of us) have followed, is no less than the glorious, beloved Son of God.
The Transfiguration: Hope for the Journey
As we prepare to begin Lent this week, with the Cross ever before us, it is important for us to remember that the journey to the cross is not all shadows and gloom, or betrayal and heartbreak. The Vision of the Transfiguration is among Christ’s foretelling of his suffering, a reminder to all of us that with Jesus, suffering and glory, darkness and light, death and life belong together.
We understand this reality well when we’ve honoured loved ones we’ve lost. We come together in pain, grieving together, but we also celebrate the resurrection life evident in the lives of the saints of this parish that have gone to be with the Lord. We live into this reality when we worship together on Sunday’s, sometimes discouraged by lower attendance than the ‘good ol’ days’, and yet together we lift our voices to sing and pray and worship our Risen King. We meet for other occasions, for planning socials or fundraisers, often with hearts heavy with the concerns of our personal lives yet buoyed by the encouragement received by being part of this community of faith. When we are here, in this place, we are especially assured: We are not alone.
We Each have a Path
Our roads to Jerusalem vary – as they did for the disciples and all would-be travellers to that Holy City in Jesus’ day. The way to our own redemption and resurrection life is different from that of our pew neighbour. The way forward for this parish will be different from other church’s – a church is as unique as each of us as individuals. Yet we are to recall today that the Transfiguration of Christ, the revelation of Christ as the fulfillment of the Law & Prophets (represented by Moses & Elijah), is a promise from God that resurrection is coming. I love that these two greats are mentioned as being in the company of Jesus on that mountain. It not only grants Jesus’ credibility, but it places his work in the long line of the faithful people of God. Their presence reminds Peter, James, and John, and all of us, that the God who was faithful to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery is the same God who leads us all from the wilderness of suffering and death to the Promised Land of Resurrection Life.
Reflecting on the Past, Facing the Future
There are touchpoints along the journey to pause and reflect on the past so that we can learn, grow, and move forward into God’s future. And today is one of those touchpoints as we commemorate the Transfiguration and as we reflect upon our Vestry meeting. These touchpoints can be places of healing – they are literally stops in the journey where Jesus touches us. As the disciples’ lay overcome by their visionary experience, bound by fear and unknowing, Jesus does what he has done to the leper, to Peter’s mother-in-law, and to the two blind men: he touches them. He uses touch to heal, strengthen, and empower his people. We feel that touch when we exchange the peace with each other, when we sing songs of God’s love, when we receive the bread and wine, when we are embraced by our loved ones. These touchpoints remind us that amid all our challenges, Christ is with us.
As we look ahead to what will certainly be another year filled with changes and challenges, let us receive the touch of the Transfigured Christ, and let us hear his word for us, a word to move us and inspire us and strengthen us for all that lay ahead: “Get up and do not be afraid.” Amen.