2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany that's three days before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Western Protestant churches celebrate the trinitarian feast of the Transfiguration. The Roman Catholic Church observes Transfiguration (T-Fig) on the second Sunday in Lent; Eastern Churches celebrate Transfiguration during August as an octave or 8-days long festival; it's that theologically important to them!
Jesus' baptism by John with its trinitarian theophany or revelation and Jesus' transfiguration with its trinitarian theophany bookend the Epiphany season. The declarative voice at Jesus' baptism speaks to Jesus, "You are my beloved son." The voice at T-Fig announces to everyone, "This is my beloved son."
"Six days later" happens after Jesus [in Mark 8] reminds his disciples about his feeding the crowd with a few loaves and fishes, after he heals a blind man at Bethsaida, after Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, after Jesus' talk about denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him. Mark 9 opens with Jesus telling them some people in his midst will not taste death (still will be alive) before they see God's reign arriving in power. Death and resurrection!
All three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – include similar accounts of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop. The scripture passage is packed full of symbolism.
In judaism, mountains were places of divine revelation; examples include Moses on Mount Sinai, Ezekiel on Mount Horeb. Pastor Peg and Charlene told us Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the Transfiguration, though scripture doesn't cite a place. Related to mountains of God's self-revelation, the NT brings us Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; God's ultimate self-revelation in the cross of Mount Calvary.
Transfiguration in the Greek text is the familiar to us metamorphosis. The light show on the T-Fig mountain continues the epiphany theme of light as an aspect of God's revelation. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – yet ultimately we need to listen to Jesus, not to his antecedents.
Elijah represents or symbolizes the prophets; Moses the law. In Jesus we encounter the fulfillment and the embodiment of the law and the prophets. Three dwellings, small houses, tabernacles, refers to Succoth, the Jewish liturgical festival of booths that commemorates the exodus desert wanderings. Word here for dwelling is the same word John's gospel uses for Jesus dwelling amount us, "pitching a tent" a portable structure, as The Message expresses it. The tent or booth is open to the natural elements and it also shelters inhabitants from the elements. Peter was correct about Jesus' bringing a new exodus, a new liberation. The Hebrew scriptures feature the cloud of the shekinah, of God's presence. Today's lectionary passage ends with another instance of Mark's messianic secret: tell no one what you've seen and hear until Jesus (the son of man, the human one) has risen from the dead—until Easter, which is especially ironic since original versions of Mark's gospel don't include a resurrection account.
There are many possible interpretations of this passage. Let's move beyond the truth that you can't stay at the party forever, you can't remain on the mountaintop, engrossed in deep conversation (or whatever your pleasure) because you need to get back to real life, return to the daily walk of the public witness. Let's move beyond the fact you can't contain God, put God in a box, beyond the truth the God of the bible is not a place god for a particular location.
Ash Wednesday starts the 6-week long season of Lent. "Lent" comes from a word for the season of spring and refers to days lengthening. This is similar to the music tempo "lento" or slow.
One more thing! On Transfiguration we bury the alleluia because we don't sing or pray "alleluias" during the penitential seasons of Lent.