from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Today on this last Sunday of the Epiphany it is time to say goodbye to the green as well as to the spoken and sung Alleluias. By Wednesday this holy space will be quite different. These few days ahead are a time of transition as we move from Epiphany-tide into the season of Lent.
Today completes a cycle of readings in which we have heard of God’s encounters in the world in several special ways. We began with the arrival of the Magi who had followed a star to see this poor infant who is the long-predicted Messiah.
At the Baptism of Jesus in the rush of a dove’s wings, God said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” In the next Sunday reading Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana, as the first of his signs. And then we heard the lesson of Jesus reading from the Torah in the synagogue in Nazareth, and his incredible announcement that the text was fulfilled in their hearing that day. Another Epiphany gospel told when Jesus called his first disciples, they were convinced to follow him by the sign of a miraculously large catch of fish. God in Jesus has shown himself present in the world throughout this entire season. Epiphany includes many wonderful declarations of who Jesus is and the incredible power he has.
Today’s lesson is the ultimate in the season’s overall message. Hearing these texts on Sunday mornings it may seem as if God’s presence was self-evident and easy to believe. These incidents, from our perspective, post resurrection, seem clear cut. However, if we read them more closely, and perhaps in an entire gospel rather than in short excerpts, we see that for the original disciples, those who experienced these events in time certain, it was not as understandable.
With each occurrence they needed time to talk with Jesus and each other about what had happened to begin to understand what they had seen and heard. Each incident was an incredible statement that the man Jesus whom they knew, was in fact God’s son. This was a major change for them. Those disciples needed time to process this reality, a time of transition, to be able to say yes to the call to move into God’s future.
Transitions in life are not easy for any of us. Whether it is a major move we are facing or a different school or job, or in being born or in dying, times of significant change are not easy. In giving birth, before the end stage of pushing the new life into the world there is a brief period called transition. The baby is still firmly in the womb and yet most definitely ready to come out. It is a recognizable moment that something life altering is beginning and there is no way to stop it.
The same is true of death, the time of wanting to hold onto life to keep things as they have been, changes. In this transition, the person who is dying surrenders to what is coming next. Those with them may see them move their lips or cry out the names of those who have already passed or raise their arms upward reaching out to Jesus. These transitions between life and death are generally short; there is no turning back after all. In major life changes the transition time allows those affected to come to acceptance of what is about to happen and to emotionally be able to move ahead.
Today’s gospel lesson is about such a time of transition. Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus, away from everyone else, experience a glorious moment. They see Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They want to hold onto this moment, Jesus standing with the ancient ones who represent the law and the prophets all glowing, shining with bright white. How magnificent! There can be no denying who Jesus is at that precise moment, and they do not want it to end!
Perhaps they yearned to hold onto the way of life they knew well, to cling to familiar ways of being faithful and of understanding they have known through the presence of Moses and Elijah. But suddenly the vision changes and Jesus alone remains. It becomes clear that a new thing is coming into being. And in this most powerful moment they hear God’s voice echoing what they heard at Jesus baptism. God tells them without a doubt that Jesus is his beloved son and that they are to listen to him.
This event is a significant turning point for Jesus, himself. Before going up the mountain, his primary focus has been on his ministry to the people. After coming down the mountain he begins his journey to the cross, death and resurrection. He no longer is focused on healing and doing miracles, or teaching about how to live life as God intended. Rather his focus is solely on fulfilling his purpose for coming to earth as savior and messiah.
The transfiguration is an important gift given to Jesus and to the three disciples as affirmation of the reality that is, before what is to come. Jesus receives a sort of pep talk from the ancients; that yes this is the time; it is starting now. And the disciples see Jesus in his glory and majesty before they are going to walk with him through his agony. They receive the unmistakable message of knowing Jesus as Messiah and are told to trust what will happen next.
Yet, seeing Jesus in his glory did not remove all the difficulties from those disciple’s lives. They could not remain on that mountain top. When they did come down, they were in the middle of opposition, of struggles and of confusion. The road to Golgotha was long and difficult. But the experience on the mountain gave them the courage to keep going. And more importantly the knowledge that through trusting God and listening to Jesus they would know this glory again.
Where does this leave us as we experience changes and difficulties in our lives? When we face our transition moments? While most of us have probably not had such a vision as did these disciples at the transfiguration, or of any of the other Epiphany stories, we have had moments of grace. Our moments may not have had the magnitude of those disciples, but we have had those times when we knew clearly that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. However, like the disciples, our visions of grace will not make our life struggles go away. With reflection these moments help us to remember who is in charge and to whom we belong. Our perspective changes through these experiences as we are pulled back to God.
We are grateful for those mountain top experiences as we are able to see and feel God’s glorious presence. We are grateful for these moments when we know without a doubt that God is in charge. These are the times that support us and give us courage and strength to continue through the changes that life inevitably brings. God is with us all the time, whether we can perceive him or not. There is great comfort in remembering this.
Epiphany season is almost over; This gospel passage of the transfiguration is the final one of every Epiphany tide; we are in transition again. May this be our lasting message of the season: From the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Amen.