Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sermon for The Transfiguration

Cornelius Monsma

he was transfigured before them, 
and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

It is rather difficult to know where to begin with the Transfiguration of Jesus.
It is such an odd event.
It doesn’t seem to have any reason or meaning.

And unlike the past few weeks where we have heard Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law, the Transfiguration doesn’t really give us any advice on how we are to be.

It is with other incidences in the Old and New Testament that we can understand why the Transfiguration is an important event in the life of Jesus, and ours as his followers.

The first connection is with Moses at Mt Sinai.

The six days reference also connects the Transfiguration with Moses at Mt Sinai:

The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud

On the seventh day Jesus, like Moses, ascends the mountain and enters the awesome presence of God.

In this way, the Transfiguration can be seen as a parallel to that of Moses on Mt Sinai and the giving of the Law.

Matthew states that Jesus’ clothes became “white as light”.

Matthew understands light as a symbol of God’s presence,
He describes the cloud that will descend soon after as “bright.”
He is making clear the connection between the radiance of Jesus and the divine.
The luminosity of Jesus and the cloud both come from the same divine sphere.

Matthew states that  Jesus’ face “shone like the sun.”
It is also a reference to Moses at Mt Sinai:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  

In many ways, this can be seen as an archetype of the Transfiguration.

There are however, significant differences.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus is momentarily revealed with more than an earthly brightness.
It is He that shines, the dazzling light emanates from Him.

The shining of Moses’ face is a “borrowed glory.”
His face shines because he has been talking with God, it is reflected on to him.

The light that was reflected on to Moses,
is the same light that emanates from Jesus, the Son of God.

By emphasising that the light was emanating from Jesus, and comparing  Moses’ shine being caused by a reflection from God shows that Jesus is not just “one of the prophets” but is more.

Another place of comparison is with Jesus’ baptism.

‘This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 

This is the same voice as at Jesus Baptism. It is the voice of God the Father. But there is a difference. ‘Listen to him.’

At His Baptism, Jesus accepted the Father’s commission to be the Messiah, and the voice there had come to Him to confirm the course he had chosen.

The voice at the Transfiguration is speaking to the disciples to confirm what Jesus has said.

But what are they to listen to?

We need to go back, 6 days before.

Jesus has asked the disciples who the people in general say that he is.
Apparently the people think he is John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah.

Jesus then puts the question directly to the disciples,
to which Peter answers
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. 

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, for the first time, what the he must endure:

“great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” 

The voice of God the Father at the Transfiguration says: they are to hear this and understand that this is the will of God the Father.

They are also to listen to what Jesus says about being one of His followers:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 

If the Baptism was where Jesus was confirmed in the course he had taken,
the Transfiguration functions in a similar way for the disciples.

Jesus is confirmed to them as the Messiah, the Son of God,
and as Jesus was to listen to the Father, they are to listen to Jesus.

Because if we look where the Transfiguration occurs within gospels, it acts as a centre piece.
From this point onwards, Jesus face is fixed toward Jerusalem.
It all leads to the cross now.

This is a last moment of glory before the events of what we call Holy Week, and it has a special resonance with one event in particular, the Agony at Gethsemane.

In both events, we hear that Jesus took three of his disciples, his inner circle, Peter, James and John.

The Transfiguration is the mirror opposite to the agony in Gethsemane.
One is a place of suffering and struggle, the other glory and light.
One is characterised by darkness and violence, the other full radiance and calm.
One is the lowest point of the Gospel narratives, the other, the highest.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus will be revealed to be fully divine;
in Gethsemane, He reveals his full humanity.

Both show Jesus’ identity as the Son of God
“in his radiance and obedience, his exaltation and humiliation, his glory and suffering.”

So, as we head into Lent, as we begin our journey to Holy Week, let us bask in the uncreated light of the transfigured Jesus. Let us heed the call of God the Father: Listen to him.

May we deny ourselves and take up our own crosses and follow him.

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