While 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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” —Matthew 17:5—7
This Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday”—one of those special moments in the liturgical year that we celebrate—but that I imagine leaves at least a few of you quizzically cocking your heads. Yeah, the story (which is offered up in all three synoptic gospels) is pretty compelling. Jesus and his best buds trudge all the way up a mountain to get away from it all; his face and clothes dazzle as bright as the sun; a couple of really famous dead prophets from his religious heritage join the fun; and then God breaks through the clouds and identifies Jesus as his own son, telling ‘the boys’ to “listen to him.” The BFs fall out in fear, get back up when Jesus touches them and tells them not to worry, then the prophets are gone and they all head back down the mountain with Jesus telling them to keep it a secret! It is all quite dramatic but what is it all about?
The Transfiguration is considered one of Jesus’ miracles but it is different, in that it happens to Jesus. It is also considered a hinge moment, a pivotal point in Jesus’ ministry — for from this moment forward, he sets his face toward Jerusalem and the Passion which is to come. The setting is important, for on that mountaintop human nature meets God with Jesus as the connection, the bridge between heaven and earth. And, in this moment, like at his Baptism, God-self identifies Jesus as God’s Son and God’s messenger and mouthpiece. Jesus is assigned honor and glory and is placed above those who have gone before him—even the likes of Elijah and Moses, who now live again, in the presence of Jesus.
It is a very special moment indeed—and the drama and many characters and facets of the story could feed many a sermon. Theologians point to miracles, resurrection, identity, divinity, and other ‘hard-to-understand-why-it-matters-to-me’ theological themes from orthodoxy.
But in simple terms this is what I hear this week—God points to Jesus and says, “This breathtakingly bright, dazzling, gifted person is my beloved son and that makes him your brother. He is my unique, one-of-a-kind messenger who I want you to know and listen to and understand. Go with him, be with him, follow him down the mountain, all the way to Jerusalem and let him love you and then you will love me.” And that scares the living daylights out of us. And in response to our fear Jesus says, “It’s okay… do not be afraid.” This is what he will say again and again, even at the end of his life. “Do not be afraid. I am your access, your hinge point, the Way forward. I will open your heart to God and I will be with you—always—to make sure you can have that relationship—always.” He is saying it still. You are my beloved, do not be afraid. May you know this today as I know this today in the deepest places in my soul.
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapadefirstname.lastname@example.org