February 19, 2023
Exodus 24:12-18 Psalm 99 2 Peter 1:16-21 Matthew 17:109
Our reading from Matthew of Jesus and his disciples going up on the mountain is intended to remind the people of Israel of Moses. Moses, in our reading from Exodus, goes up onto Mount Sinai. There is a long history of mountaintop experiences for people seeking guidance from God. If we keep reading from Exodus, Moses would eventually return with the ten commandments and a host of instructions for worship. Jesus returns with his mind set on going to Jerusalem where he will be executed and then resurrected.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is presented to the people as the new Moses. Matthew’s gospel is a retelling of Exodus. Just as the Pharoah has the Jewish newborn male children killed, King Herod learns of the coming of the Messiah and has the newborn male Jewish children murdered. As a result, Joseph and Mary take the newborn Christ child to Egypt. Moses leads his people out of slavery in Egypt, and Jesus comes from out of Egypt to free his people from the slavery of sin. And then, we have the mountain top experiences.
In today’s passage from Exodus, Moses goes up onto the mountain to meet with God and receive and return with God’s commandments for the people. In Matthew we have the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is said to be sharing the New Commandments from God. Today, Jesus goes onto the mountain to prepare for what he has come to do.
High up on the mountain, Peter, James, and John see Jesus transfigured. His face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Then suddenly Moses and Elijah appear with him and they begin to talk among themselves. It is easy to understand why it is Moses and Elijah that join Jesus on the mountain. Moses represents freedom and after he spoke with God on Mount Sinai, his face, too, was shining and his people were afraid to come near him. Elijah is the great prophet that is said will return to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one who will save the people of Israel.
Peter, James, and John hear the voice of God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” and the disciples fall to the ground and are overcome by fear. Up to a point, the story of the transfiguration is full of symbolism. The shining face, the presence of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God repeating what was said at the baptism of Jesus. All of this makes it clear that the disciples are in the presence of the Messiah and he is their savior.
It is the transfiguration that we define as a miracle, but I suggest there exists in this story another miracle. After the disciples fall to the ground, immobilized by fear, Jesus comes to them and touches them. He speaks to them as he has spoken to countless others he has healed, saying simply, “Get up and do not be afraid.” They look up and see Jesus, just Jesus. Jesus then tells them “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
We, too, are often overcome by fear. Reading the paper with the news of another man going on a shooting spree and killing multiple people, the ongoing war in Ukraine, all the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the bills to make it even more challenging to be a transgendered child in our schools, it is easy to be afraid. Jesus asks us to look at him and not be afraid.
Peter references their experience with Jesus on the mountain in our reading today from 2nd Peter. “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This, Peter says, in confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah for whom the people have been awaiting. As for what Peter is saying to the people, he says:
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.
Here, as Epiphany draws to a close, we have yet another reference to the light that Christ brings into this world. Peter suggests the message that Christ brings to us of God’s love is like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
When we say that someone has an epiphany, we are saying that they experience a sudden understanding of something that was hidden from them. Sometimes, as the experience of the disciples upon the mountain with Jesus, these experiences can be frightening. A sudden realization can be startling – and yet, they can also be invigorating and even comforting. I like theologian, William Countryman’s suggestion that such an experience is a glimpse into God’s kingdom. It is an experience of the divine. God is, after all, the source of knowledge and truth.
With that in mind, listen to the rest of our passage from 2nd Peter: “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.” Understanding God’s will for us is an experience of the divine.
As we enter into Lent, remember this is what we are seeking – an understanding of God’s call for us. In Exodus, Moses is on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. After his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days for fasting and prayer. There he is tempted. The 40 days of Lent is not only intended to remind us that Jesus (and Moses) spent 40 days reflecting on God’s will, it is a time for us to do likewise. Any time we do this, I believe we, too, are tempted to focus on ourselves, our wants and desires. Discerning God’s call takes time.
Whether or not you choose to follow a Lenten discipline is up to you. If we decide to give something up or take on a new discipline, the purpose of doing so is to reassess our lives and listen for God’s call to us. It may, at times, feel like a dark time, but the light of Christ’s love for us will be like the lamp that will shine until the new day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts and we know what God wants for us.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we thank you for shining your light into our lives and helping us find our way to the truth of your love. Give us the strength to follow the path before us that we might do your will. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.