"The Transfiguration" A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Matt. 17:1-9. ______________________________________________________________________
One theologian once said: "The eyes serve as windows into our soul." It is true that our eyes--like windows--let light shine in. Both eyes and windows help us to see what is outside. Eyes and windows help us to see what we could never see, if we were blind or had no windows to look outside. In a similar way, our Lord's Transfiguration serves AS A NEW WAY OF SEEING JESUS FOR THE DISCIPLES. The Transfiguration is, for the disciples, AN EYE OR WINDOW WHICH SHEDS LIGHT ON AND REVEALS JESUS'S IDENTITY. The mountain-top; the shining brightness of Christ; the appearance of Moses and Elijah; the overshadowing cloud; and the voice from the cloud all point to this occasion as a VERY SPECIAL AND HOLY event for the disciples. It is VERY SPECIAL AND HOLY because through this event, the disciples are able to see--for a brief moment--THE FUTURE GLORY(the Shekinah) OF CHRIST.
Matthew tells us that Jesus: "was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light." This is a very interesting and symbolic description of Christ's transfigured appearance. In light of John's Gospel, JESUS DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS: "the light of the world." We know that in the natural world, light is necessary for the life and growth of plants, animals and even human beings. This is also true spiritually, for many people refer to their spiritual knowledge, experience and journey by saying: "I have come to see the light," or "the light has shone upon me."
Some of you may remember the words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his address the night before he was assasinated. He said: "I have been to the mountain-top...my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." Whether it's Peter, James and John, Martin Luther King Jr., or ourselves: the meaning of the Transfiguration is perhaps best described as one of those "AH-HA! ENERGYZING, INSPIRATIONAL EVENTS WHICH ALLOW US TO SEE, UNDERSTAND AND EXPERIENCE AS WE NEVER HAVE BEFORE.
For Peter, James and John, the Transfiguration of Christ then, first of all was A CONFIRMATION, A CLARIFICATION, AN OFFICIAL BEARING WITNESS TO CHRIST'S TRUE IDENTITY AS TRUE HUMAN AND TRUE GOD. It was a glimpse into the future, revealing the resurrected and ascended Christ.
Moses representing the Torah, Elijah representing the prophets and the voice from the cloud all confirm, clarify, and bear witness to the Transfigured Christ. They are reassuring the disciples that JESUS TRULY IS WHO HE SAYS HE IS. They serve, in a fashion, as would a notary public bearing witness to the authenticity of the Transfigured Christ.
In our moments of doubt and uncertainty, we, too, are in need of the reassurance that Jesus is who he says he is--True Human and True God. We can take our doubts and uncertainties to him and trust in him. One way in which we may be able to do this is to imagine that we are on that mountain-top along with the disciples. Together, we, too, see the Transfigured Christ, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. We, too, hear the voice from the cloud speaking to us. We, too, are able to trust that Jesus is who he says he is.
The Transfiguration was also AN EVENT THAT PREPARED THE DISCIPLES FOR THE FUTURE--NAMELY, THE EVENTS WHICH WOULD LEAD JESUS TO THE CROSS AND HIS RESURRECTION. The Transfiguration is to the cross and resurrection what Lent is to Easter. In life, nothing of great quality and significance is done without careful planning and preparation. For example, when people build a home or a city, much time is spent on planning and preparation. Blueprints are carefully worked out and drawn up to serve as a guide for the builders.
In a similar way, the Tranfiguration prepared the disciples for what would follow in the future. The light and brightness of Christ's appearance when he was transfigured is STRIKINGLY SIMILAR TO THE RESURRECTED CHRIST'S APPEARANCE. In the resurrection accounts, Christ's appearance is also described as radiant, bright, shining light. Their eyes had seen the future, resurrected glory of Christ. But, of course, BEFORE CHRIST WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD HE HAD TO DIE ON THE CROSS. This was God's way of preparing Peter, James and John for going through the valley BEFORE they could see, understand and experience the significance of Christ's future glory. In this sense, our gospel passage today must be connected with its wider context--NAMELY, IN LIGHT OF JESUS'S PREDICTIONS OF HIS COMING DEATH AND RESURRECTION. The Transfiguration takes place after Jesus's first passion prediction and before his second passion prediction. It is a vision of future glory, which shall come ONLY AFTER THE EXTREMELY PAINFUL PROCESS OF SUFFERING AND DYING ON A CROSS.
We as God's church on earth, like the first disciples, also face and endure suffering and bear our cross BEFORE WE ARE ABLE TO SEE, UNDERSTAND AND EXPERIENCE CHRIST'S FUTURE GLORY. In short, we cannot celebrate Easter Sunday without FIRST GOING THROUGH THE VALLEY OF PREPARATION, which we call Lent. Christ's Transfiguration and resurrection have no meaning UNLESS THEY ARE VIEWED IN LIGHT OF HIS SUFFERING AND DEATH.
There is another aspect of this awesome event, which Matthew makes known to us. After the voice from the cloud speaks and the disciples fell to their faces in fear and awe; Matthew tells us: "Jesus came and TOUCHED THEM, saying, "Rise, and have no fear."
Some researchers today believe that our sense of touch is an important one and they advocate hugging as a therapy, which appears to give human beings health and well-being. I don't know if Jesus actually hugged the disciples, but the Greek word for touch, which is used here DOES POINT TO THE IMPORTANCE OF TOUCH. Not only does it have the sense of feeling intimate, it also means to light, to kindle and to heal. When the disciples were touched by Jesus, their hearts and souls were kindled with the light of Christ. They were healed, their fears were dispelled, they could rise with confidence and return to the valley of everyday discipleship--of serving a world in need.
Someone who has been TOUCHED BY JESUS is never quite the same again. As mentioned earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. had been to the mountain-top and had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. But neither he nor Peter, James and John remained on the mountain. They all went down into the valley of serving a world in need.
Once touched by Jesus, they were healed and given all that was necessary to serve the needy in the world. The touch of Christ, which healed and changed their lives was meant to be shared with the world, so that others could also be healed and changed.
In a sense, every time we meet here for worship (and maybe on the internet too), we are given the mountain-top opportunity TO BE TOUCHED BY CHRIST so that we, too, may be HEALED AND CHANGED FOR A LIFE OF SERVICE IN THE VALLEY.
May our worship HEAL AND CHANGE US, so that our hearts, souls, minds and lives ARE KINDLED WITH THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. May Christ's TOUCH dispell our fears, so that we are able to rise with confidence and go down into the valley of serving a world in need.