Monday, February 24, 2020

Transfiguration A

Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

On Transfiguration we bury the alleluias! Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with ashes that remind us of our own death and mortality. Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week, excluding Sundays that are "in but not of" Lent because each Sunday is a little Easter. Lent is a truly penitential season where many people discipline themselves in meaningful ways such as giving up a food they enjoy, a habit they don't want, taking on an activity to benefit others. No alleluias during Lent because of repentance and an overall low-key sensibility.

The western protestant church celebrates Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany. For Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican churches, Transfiguration is on August 6th. Many Orthodox churches observe Transfiguration for an octave of eight days; the church long has noted particularly important festivals in octaves, so Transfiguration is that important! Some RC churches observe Transfiguration on the Second Sunday in Lent.

All three synoptic gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – include similar accounts of the Transfiguration—metamorphosis in Greek.

One way for explaining the church's year of grace is to consider Advent through Transfiguration a big section that especially reveals God in Jesus as God of all, God for all, with the light of Christ reaching everywhere it shines.

Similar to Jesus' Baptism a few weeks ago, the Transfiguration famously brings us a Trinitarian theophany, a simultaneous revelation/showing forth of all three persons of the godhead.

Throughout OT and NT, we experience creation as the setting or venue for God's historical activity. In Judaism, mountains often were arenas of God's self-revelation.

Traditional and valid interpretations of this event include:

1. You can't stay on the mountaintop forever.
2. The party needs to end because you need to go back to the daily rhythm of life with its public witness out in the world.
3. You can't contain God or put "god in a box." Martin Luther talked about a domesticated god.
3. God is not a place god of one particular locale; God is God of all places, all people, everywhere.

Other ideas:

1. In Matthew 17:1, "Six days later" comes after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, after Jesus' rebuke of Peter as satan; Transfiguration reveals Jesus full of light as Son of the Excellent Glory, as today's second reading 2 Peter 1:16-19 names God the Father in 1:17.

2. In Luke's account, they've just finished Succoth, the Feast of Booths – Tabernacles – Tents when people re-enacted God's protection during their wilderness wanderings in the exodus desert (Leviticus 23:39-43). Those temporary structures provided shelter from the elements yet people remained exposed to nature, so it's possible Peter, James, and John imagined offering hospitality and protection to Moses and Elijah because their memory of Succoth was so fresh.

3. Late Trappist monk Thomas Merton suggested not only Jesus was transformed, the disciples with him also received a transfiguration that helped them recognize the divine presence in all persons, in all creation.

Verse 17:5 During this literal seeing-with-their-eyes vision of Jesus full of brightness, dazzle, bling, and splendor ("glory," as Pastor Peg emphasized in her sermon) the voice from heaven commands not look at him, but Listen to him!. In the Hebrew way of life, to listen is to hear is to obey. Alexander observed how calmly matter of fact the Father's announcement of Jesus' sonship is, without the type of unwelcome intrusiveness we get from too much current advertising.

Moses represents the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant; Elijah represents the voice of the prophets. Both appeared on the mountain with Jesus we know as the ultimate word of God, the definitive interpreter of The Law and the Prophets. Listen to Jesus! and don't listen to any other cultural, consumer, economic, ecclesiastical voices evokes the Barmen Declaration [1934] from the Confessing Church in Germany in the wake of the idolatry of nazi national socialism:

Barmen Declaration 8:11: "Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death."

• We can consider Baptism of Jesus and Transfiguration bookends for each other.

• We can pair the unknown mountain of Transfiguration and Calvary Mountain where Jesus was crucified, with both revealing an aspect of God's essence.

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