Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:13:21 Luke 9:28-36
When I was in Jerusalem we went to Mount Tabor where tradition says today’s gospel story took place. The Franciscans have a sign in front of the Church of the Transfiguration which reads, “The Franciscans Friars – Custody of the Holy Lands.” To have custody of a child is to be responsible for their well being. It is an interesting perspective, suggesting that they do not believe they own the land any more than a guardian owes a child. I read this sign as meaning that the Franciscans consider themselves to be charged with the responsibility of caring for the Holy Lands and that the Holy Lands belong to God.
In some churches when the offering plates are brought forward, the priest holds it up and says, “All that we have comes from Thee, O Lord,” and the congregation responds, “And of Thine own have we given Thee.” This brief liturgy said at the offertory serves as a reminder that our possessions are gifts from God. Even those among us who have worked for everything they have, would not have been able to achieve what they did without the God given talents and abilities they were given at birth.
When we consider what we have to be gifts and when we view these gifts as being entrusted to us, we must then ask ourselves why? Why have we been given the gifts that we have – the gifts that have been entrusted to us? What are we, as the custodian of these gifts meant to do with them?
The Franciscan Friars consider it their responsibility to open the doors of their church to all who seek a closer relationship with God. They keep the doors of this, and other churches in the Holy Lands, open for people to visit. All who visit, do so for a reason. God leads us many places in our lives, though we are often oblivious to the signs God places before us.
In today’s gospel story, we are told that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him onto the mountain to pray. The appearance of Jesus changes and Moses and Elijah appear with him. We are then told that the disciples “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 one instance when they did not fail to see the sign – but they did have a little trouble understanding why they were there. I’m sure I would too.
Peter thinks it would be good to build three dwellings, or tabernacles – one for each of them. But they were not on the mountain as witnesses to this so that they might worship God and Jesus. They were there as witnesses and to hear God speak. A cloud envelops them and they hear God say, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Then it says simply “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.” In both the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus instructs them not to talk of it – but here in Luke, Jesus does not need to tell them, they seem to understand that it is not the right time to speak of it.
The story of the transfiguration is considered a pivotal moment is the life of Christ. Jesus speaks to Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets. Both the Law and the Prophets are understood to be gifts given to the chosen people of God as guides for them to live in such a way that they might experience God’s peace in their lives.
Jesus speaks to Moses and Elijah, we are told, “about his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” From Luke’s account, then, we learn that this is when Jesus turns his attention toward the cross. From this point forward, he is preparing the disciples for his death and the time when they will become the Body of Christ, the Church.
What the three apostles experience that day, may not be spoken of “in those days,” but in 2 Peter, we hear him tell of it and say, “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.” This story is told to help us and others understand that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Chosen One, who came to lead us to a new life in him.
Twice in the gospels, God speaks and says, Jesus is the Beloved, or Chosen One – once as his baptism and here. God speaks when Jesus begins his ministry, and God speaks when Jesus begins his journey to the cross. Peter, James, and John were not present at the baptism, but they are present on the Holy Mountain and God speaks to them, telling them to listen to Jesus.
I suspect one reason they did not talk of their experience on the mountain, was that they needed time to process what had happened. Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from an experience in order to make sense of it. What took place on the mountain was one of those events for the disciples, the significance of which was not fully appreciated until after the death and resurrection of Christ. From Peter’s letter, though, we understand that it confirmed for him the “prophetic message” of Christ and his promise of a new heaven and earth.
On this day, then, we should celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, not only by remembering this story from the Gospels, we should celebrate it because Christ offers to transform our lives as well. And, being transformed by God’s love, we might go forward with a new focus. We can do the work God has called us to do and help bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is heaven. We can be the Body of Christ, the church, sharing the love of Christ with others.
Let us pray.
Fill us, O Lord, with your love that our lives might be transformed and we might go forth today to love and serve you in this community. Help us, we pray, to recognized all the gifts you have given us and to use what we have for your glory. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.