LAST EPIPHANY - A - 17 MATTHEW 17. 1-9
The instruction the disciples receive here does not come from Jesus, but directly from God; “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” Today’s epiphany confirms the message at Jesus’ baptism when coming up out of the waters Jesus hears the voice of God; “you are my Son, the beloved one, with whom I am well pleased.”
It has been an uphill climb we have taken with Jesus thus far from The Epiphany, when the magi visited the baby, and he is finally revealed to the nations. He has healed the sick, as many as they have brought to him, and he has taught openly and in their synagogues about God and the kingdom and what God expects from his people.
It’s all down hill from here. From the Mountain of the Transfiguration we descend with Jesus to Jerusalem where there is yet another hill-top awaiting him. Here his glory will be revealed as he hangs dying, not between the likes of a Moses or an Elijah, but between two brigands, the likes of which he has come to save. The proclamation that he is the Son God will not come from heaven, but from a Roman soldier standing near the cross who will have participated in his crucifixion.
His glory that was revealed in brilliant and dazzling light atop the mountain in the presence of Peter, James, and John, was but a foreshadowing of the glory that would be revealed by his death and resurrection. The Transfiguration and the cross are intimately linked.
“Tell no one about the vision,” Jesus told the disciples who were with him, “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And that is just what Peter was doing in today’s Epistle, telling people what he has seen now that Christ is risen from the dead. “We are eye witnesses of his majesty…we heard the voice from heaven…we were with him on the mountain.”
For Peter, James, and John what happened up there was an intensely religious experience that apart from their witnessing the resurrection, they would have been unable to describe. But as the scene unfolded on the mountain, Peter’s reaction and response was a totally different one.
At first the disciples are awed at Jesus’ appearance, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” As they were equally awed by the appearance of Moses and Elijah.
Speaking, then, for the others, Peter can think of nothing better than remaining where they are and holding on to the moment. Moses represents the law and all those who have died. Elijah represents the prophets and since he did not experience death, all those who are alive in Christ.
Their presence shows that the law and the prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, who is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Peter sees this as a sign that the kingdom has come. Knowing that the Feast of Tabernacles is the feast of the coming kingdom, he asks to build three booths, as was done at the feast, to serve to symbolize God’s dwelling among his people.
While he is yet speaking, a cloud overshadows them; a visible sign of God’s presence as evidenced by today’s first lesson. God instructed Moses to come up on the mountain. A cloud covered the mountain and the glory of the Lord settled on the mountain. The people below could see the glory of God on the mountain appearing as fire.
Moses was in the midst of the cloud and he was not afraid. He remained there with God forty days and forty nights receiving the law from the hand of God. On the mount of the Transfiguration God speaks from the cloud: “this is my beloved Son…listen to him.”
The voice speaking from the cloud frightened the disciples. They fall to the ground with their faces bowed to the earth. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up they saw no one but Jesus alone.
Listening to Jesus is what we should all be engaged in. God says so. It is how we know we are living in accordance with God’s will. But we all know that listening to Jesus is difficult at times. We are easily distracted by the sights and sounds that surround us on a daily basis. If we will, we can allow these distractions to drown out God’s voice and blur our vision of the kingdom and our pathway to it.
The enemy works through deception and distraction. Whatever it takes to divert us from the path God has chosen for each of us to walk. This life-time journey we are called to make with God in Christ is an up hill climb burdened by the weight of the “cross” God has given each of us to bear.
Sometimes it appears we are going from one mountain top to the next with long stretches of valley in between. Those valleys create opportunities for the evil one to distract us and lead us astray placing something before us that appears to be light when it is really darkness in disguise.
And when we discover that we are lost in darkness we naturally become afraid. That’s when Jesus comes to us, and touches us, like he did the disciples who were afraid on the mountain, and tells us to get up and get going again. By his presence we are reminded that we do not make the journey alone - Christ walks with us.
Christ is the true light who lightens our path. Christ is the life of the world who has called us to new life in himself. Our faith, then, is in the light of his countenance that enlightens our hearts and in his promise of presence.
If we remain faithful, God will grant us the strength to bear our cross, and the grace to be changed into His likeness from glory to glory, until it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen+