Matthew sets this story in the middle of Jesus’ passion predictions and whilst he is teaching his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.
The church sets it at the end of the season of Epiphany which of course is led in by Christmas. So, we have moved from the birth of the Messiah- Emmanuel- God with us- to the acknowledgement that he is the promised King not just of Israel but of the whole world. Then as we see Jesus the light of the world, we are led through the sermon on the Mount, to see how the disciples are to shine in the world with the reflected light of Jesus, through our take on the commandments of God. And now with his lead disciples, we see him in all his glory on the mountain with the great heroes of Israel, Elijah and Moses.
The story is six days after Jesus has told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. Six days reflect the six days of creation, perhaps indicating that the work of Jesus in the new creation is coming to the end- it is in its last day or days. What’s next is the passion and resurrection and ascension. So, after six days he took his core leadership team [sometimes there is a place for what seems like preferential treatment] up a mountain-the first of three mountains, not to mention the mount of the sermon on the mount, but we have now, the mountain here, the mountain of Calvary and the mountain of the ascension, And there on this mount he was transfigured before them.
We need to acknowledge that the language here to describe Jesus’ transformation is inadequate, what we are looking at is Jesus’ form beyond his humanity, where the glory and majesty of his full divinity is revealed. It is what he would be beyond the grave and beyond his ascension.
This is further underlined by his speaking with the great prophets of Israel, Moses and Elijah, who if you remember also communed with God on the mountain- I heard one person say that this may have been a timeless moment where past present and future are all tied together and revealed. There is something infinitely powerful going on here.
This is at its most basic a revealing of what the final consummation after the passion will be like. And the poor old disciples are so over whelmed that Peter burbles out an idea of building tents for the three, ‘it is good Lord for us to be here’. How did they know who they saw? And clearly in the moment there was no need for explanation.
Then the cloud- and the voice- and if the disciples weren’t a little afraid before, they were overwhelmed with fear now. They fell down on their faces in that moment. ‘This is my Son whom I love listen to him’. Then just like that Jesus touched them and ordered them to arise [as in the resurrection] and all was normal once more. Well what is normal?
Journeying on to Jerusalem to face the end, there is something now to hold them through what is to come. Do they now understand-no not really! When will they understand? They will know more and understand more after the resurrection and ascension and they will be led by the Holy Spirit into the new future which is emerging, and their faith and trust in God will deepen as they see how the Messiah must die to redeem the world.
So with this vision before us we go into Lent and then into Passiontide. We have the words of God ringing in our ears, ‘this is my Son, listen to him’. So what can we do to listen? What are the things in us which are barriers to our listening to God and giving him the highest and first place in our lives?
Lent is traditionally a time for some disciplines which help us to get our priorities right. So, if we are addicted to something physically or emotionally, so that it comes before everything including Jesus, maybe now is a time to look at it and practice some kind of discipline. For many of us this can be food, but it can also be coffee or TV or chips or lollies. Maybe something struck you when we were looking at the law over the past few weeks. Maybe Lent might be a time where you might decide to practice being more graceful towards others. Perhaps doing a good deed for someone every day. Perhaps you might want to see if you can do something with some unresolved anger or a relationship issue which has burdened you for some time. What can you do to come in closer to Jesus over the next 6 weeks- 40 days of fasting? Maybe turn off the TV for half an hour a day and read the bible or your study book on Matthew and think about it. Spend some time in prayer. Keep before you the promise, not of the passion but of the glorified Jesus, and that we can be with him for ever.