Meditation on Luke 9:28-36
March 3, 2019
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
So, yesterday (Saturday) was the first day that I began to feel better after being sick since last Sunday night. I prayed all week for a Transfiguration experience like Jesus had on a high mountain with his disciples, but I couldn’t pull myself out of the Princess Bride-like pit of despair! Have you seen the movie, The Princess Bride? It felt like torture. It hit me hard and fast–with fever, sore throat, cough, queasy stomach, and generalized, supersized yuckiness. On Thursday night, after I had to leave the Muskingum University Choir concert early because I couldn’t control my coughing, my husband laid hands on me and we prayed for my healing so that I could lead worship today on Transfiguration Sunday. The next morning, on Friday, after a practically sleepless night because of coughing, I went to a local doctor’s office, without an appointment, saying I am new in town and could I please be seen by anyone who could help me?
“Welcome to Ohio,” said the receptionist, without any sarcasm, as she took down my information. I was hoping no one would know it was me. For I was looking and feeling like something the cat dragged in, half chewed and spit out. But sure enough, the question of my employment came up. She didn’t ask me for the address or phone of the church because of course we are the only Presbyterian Church in town. Then, one of the nurses, after she took my vitals, said that she and her husband are members of our church and that she had met me in December. She didn’t add when you were looking and sounding a whole lot better. She was kind.
The nurse practitioner, after the exam and good questions, gave me her diagnosis. “You have an Ohio cold,” she said, straight faced, and I liked her immediately. She said it in such a way that I felt proud to be in solidarity with all the sick of my community. Cause it seems like half my community is sick with the Ohio cold. So if you come up to me and tell me you have the Ohio cold, I can say, “I know that one!!! I’ve done that!”
And you can say to me with a wink, “Now you are truly one of us!”
Here we are on one of my favorite Sundays in the church year because this is SO important. The Transfiguration account is in all 3 gospels–Matthew, Mark and Luke. God is speaking loud and clear, repeating himself through different voices and perspectives not because the Lord is getting forgetful, but for emphasis. John may also be alluding to Christ’s Transfiguration in his gospel, summing it up in one verse in his first chapter, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.
This is a pivotal moment, when heaven and earth come together on a high mountain; God and human beings; Old Testament and New Covenant. The past, present and future meet.
This is full of OT imagery. You have to know the Old Testament to understand. The Hebrew Bible was the only Scripture Jesus had–and this is how he came to know and love and teach about God. We’ve got to keep telling these stories to our children! They won’t know who Jesus was, is and is to come without studying the OT.
On to the imagery… Both Moses and Elijah met with God on a holy mountain. God’s form is a cloud–as it is in the Exodus story. Moses and Elijah are representing the law and the prophets–Torah and Nevi’im. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
One thing Luke tells us that Matthew and Mark don’t is why they go up the mountain. To pray! You have to wonder, how did Jesus convince these 3 to climb a mountain with him? And why did he choose them above the other disciples? They are fishermen, who before answering the call to fish for people lived in a little fishing village on the Sea of Galilee; they weren’t mountain climbers, farmers or shepherds! It may have been Mount Hermon; at 9,232 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Syria and straddles the border between Syria and Lebanon. Mount Hermon is near Caesarea Philippi, the ancient Roman city in what is now the Golan Heights of Syria. Caesarea Philippi is where Jesus was teaching and healing before the Transfiguration.
They are exhausted when they reach the top. Verse 32 says, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” This is a shadow of what’s to come when Jesus takes the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that he is betrayed. And he tells them to stay awake and pray. And they keep falling asleep.
Luke’s account also tells what Jesus, Elijah and Moses were talking about. Matthew and Mark don’t tell us! Verse 31, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” That word departure is the Greek word exodus, from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written before but still used in Jesus’ time. Exodus tells of the Israelites’ deliverance from captivity and survival in the wilderness, with the promise of a new land. The word exodus can also mean “one’s departure from this life; one’s death.” Theologian and author Joel B. Green says (The Gospel of Luke, 382), “The encasement of Jesus’ mission in the language of exodus reminds us that whatever shape it takes, that mission is grounded in the purpose of God to bring liberation from bondage…. And if Jerusalem is the place where Jesus’ opposition will overtake him and bring him to his death, it is also the location of vindication through resurrection.”
The Transfiguration will become part of the disciples’ testimony, though not right away. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say they kept silent, telling no one in those days any of the things they had seen. In Mark, Jesus orders them not to say anything. In Matthew 7:9, he says as they are coming down the mountain, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Peter will write of this experience later, though he leaves out the part about how he was terrified and said, “Good thing we are here! We can build you houses!” He was afraid the Christ was leaving them at that very moment, and he wanted Jesus to stay and the divine encounter in a sacred and lonely space to go on forever.
In 2 Peter 2:16-18, the disciple says to the Church, “For 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.”
Friends, we are now eyewitnesses. The key to this passage is sight— God-given vision that leads to spiritual understanding and righteous, faithful living. It has been written for those who have eyes to see and trust in God’s Only Son, the Beloved. But we must also have ears to hear–for God adds, just as he does at His Son’s baptism, “Listen to Him.” Listen doesn’t just mean “hear me.” It means, “Do what I say.”
The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the new reality for all believers who will, someday live in glorified, resurrected bodies with him.
I leave you with a question. Was Jesus really transfigured or was it the disciples? Maybe they were allowed to see him as he truly was and is–just for a moment–to strengthen them for the journey of faith, ministry and suffering that lies ahead.
This reminds me of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, when 2 disciples walk home from Jerusalem after the crucifixion and the empty tomb and they are grieving. They think the women’s report of an angelic encounter is an idle tale. And Jesus is walking with them, all along, listening, questioning, then challenging and teaching. He says, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
When they reach their home, they urge Jesus to stay. They sit down at the table to eat; when Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it and begins to give it to them, their eyes are opened and they recognize him!
In a moment, we will commune together with the Lord at his table. I pray you will have another glimpse of the new reality for all of us because of what God has done through His Beloved Son. God’s Kingdom is already breaking in! He has opened the way to forgiveness and eternal life. He is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.
We come to the table in faith and prayer, as if we are invited to climb a holy mountain with Jesus and his followers in every time and place.
May God open our eyes that we may see Christ as He really is, ourselves as we really are, and be transfigured with him.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we thank you for the Holy encounters we have experienced when gathering around your Word, communing at your table, and serving in your name. Thank you for inviting us to be your disciples, for opening our eyes and teaching us the faith. Open our ears to hear your voice and truly listen to you and obey. Fill us anew with your Spirit, pour out your love into our hearts so that we may live as your transfigured, transformed, changed people forevermore and be eyewitnesses to your power, majesty and glory. In the name of your Beloved Son we pray. Amen.