Above: Mount Tabor, Traditional Site of the Transfiguration
Jesus, Consistent with the Law and the Prophets
MARCH 2, 2014
FEBRUARY 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18 (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD said to Moses,
Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.
So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said,
Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.
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. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
THEN THIS PSALM
Psalm 2 (New Revised Standard Version):
Why do the the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.
I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to me,
You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
OR THIS PSALM
Psalm 99 (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.
THEN THE EPISTLE READING
2 Peter 1:16-21 (New Revised Standard Version):
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 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.
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
THEN THE GOSPEL READING
Matthew 17:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, 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 dazzling white. 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 make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice 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 looked up, 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.
O God, who before the passion of your onlybegotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I read about events such as the Ascension and the Transfiguration I suspect that more happened than I read in texts. I do not doubt the veracity of the accounts, but I suspect that words were inadequate to the full scope of events in question. One just had to be there to get the full effect, and I am about 2,000 years too late for that.
The Transfiguration was a revelatory experience for the accompanying apostles. They glimpsed the true nature of Jesus, which entails being consistent with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). [A true story: Recently Beth Long, my Rector, repeated a question a child in the parish asked. How, this young person queried, did the apostles recognize Moses and Elijah? Beth replied that she did not know. Indeed, that is an intriguing question and a plot hole, but it does not distract me from the point of having Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together briefly.] Yet Peter–”God bless him,” as we say in the U.S. South–wanted to remain in the moment and institutionalize it. This reaction, although well-intentioned, was misguided, for Jesus and the apostles needed to move along.
They were headed for Jerusalem, where the Passion Narrative would unfold. The Gospel of Luke contains another account of the Transfiguration. Just a few verses after that passage, Jesus “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” and his impending death. (Luke 9:51) This is an important turning point in the Gospel of Luke, and one should read verses before it and after it in its context. With that in mind, I propose that the Transfiguration was also a “booster shot” for Jesus, who was about the embark on a difficult, yet necessary, course.
When pondering the calendar of the Christian Church, one needs to remember that the earliest feast Christians observed was Easter. Even Christmas (the observance of which developed later) exists in the shadow of Easter. And the Transfiguration does, also.
The placement of the Transfiguration on this Sunday is appropriate because the next season in the Christian year is Lent, and the next Sunday will be the First Sunday in Lent. At the end of that 40-days season is Holy Week. So we Christians need to set our faces toward Jerusalem, too.