John Meng-Frecker – “Transfiguration of our Lord”
Jesus has traveled a long way since his baptism.
That day, when John baptized him in the Jordan River, Matthew tells us that just as Jesus came up out of the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Can you imagine what Jesus must have felt that day? His skin tingling as the cool river water poured down his face and over his body, his eyes squinting as brilliant light poured out of heaven, and from that light, he saw a dove descending and alighting on him.
And in his ears, a voice ringing.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
It was after his baptism and his forty days in the wilderness that Jesus began to proclaim throughout Galilee, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
He called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And the disciples went with him as he taught and healed, restored a girl to life, and as he did all of this, people could see what the kingdom of God could and would be like on this earth.
The disciples watched and learned.
And then Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Soon after this, Jesus started explaining to the disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, that he would be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him!
“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus then teaches the disciples that if any want to become his followers, they must take up their crosses and follow.
And then, only six days after Peter has said that Jesus is the Messiah, we come to today’s gospel.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, and leads them up a high mountain, by themselves.
Now it’s their turn to see light pouring out of heaven, Jesus shining like the sun, his clothes dazzling white. Now it’s their turn to hear a voice ringing, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
And an added phrase. “Listen to him.”
No wonder Peter, James and John fell to the ground in fear.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying “get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one but Jesus himself alone. Moses and Elijah, the dazzling light, the bright cloud, the ringing voice—all gone.
But Jesus was still there, with them!
Their skin must have tingled as Jesus touched them. And the voice they heard was his, familiar, reassuring, challenging and strengthening.
“Get up and do not be afraid.”
And then they went back down the mountain.
We hear this story every year in church on the last Sunday after the Epiphany.
The transfiguration inspires the disciples in the moment, what some would call a mountain top experience, because what they see points beyond his death to what will happen to Jesus in the future—his resurrection.
When Peter, James and John see Jesus shining like the sun, and his clothes dazzling white, they are seeing a vision of the future, Jesus in his resurrection body, the one who will lead them “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life” as the words of Eucharistic Prayer B say.
And so the disciples would remember the transfiguration forever because this event proved to them without a doubt that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and that his reign stretches into eternity.
So no wonder that in the Second Letter of Peter, the writer says that “we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty” and we ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, saying “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
So, the writer goes on, “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your own hearts.”
This story of the transfiguration can serve as a lamp shining in a dark place for each one of us when we find ourselves facing into bad news, like the disciples faced the bad news that Jesus would suffer and die.
This story helps us to remember that beyond death is resurrection, and that Jesus goes with us through our lives, through our years of health, productivity and mostly stability. But at some point, we all end up staring death in the face, just as Jesus did. But Jesus knew, and told the disciples, and they got to see, that beyond his death was resurrection. This fact is true for us as well. The light of the resurrection burns through and beyond the darkness of death for all of us who follow Jesus.
Today is the day of our congregational meeting, when we review the year just past.
This church has been blessed for the almost two hundred years that it has been in existence. I have no doubt that God considers this church as beloved, and that God is well pleased with this church. For here we are, moving forward, even as we face the challenges of illnesses, aging, deaths, and other changes and transitions that have been difficult.
Like Peter, we may find ourselves saying, or wanting to say, “God forbid it, Lord!” when it comes to our individual challenges, and the challenges that we face as a small church in what seems to be a decline.
But the story of the transfiguration reminds us to hear instead the words of Jesus and to heed them.
“Get up, and do not be afraid!”
Jesus has always been with this church! Jesus is with us now! And Jesus will be with us!
When we are discouraged by our small numbers, discouraged by the accidents and illnesses that disable us for varying periods, when we want to do some work of God in the world that we feel might be impossible because we’re too small, or too old, or too isolated, let’s turn to this story and not be afraid to proceed wherever it is that God will lead us. Because just as Jesus led the disciples down that mountain back into ministry, Jesus leads us too.
Our job is to follow, knowing that as the followers of Jesus, suffering may be inevitable, but guess what, our resurrections are inevitable as well.
So as this season after the Epiphany comes to a close, and we look back on 2022, and at all St Peter’s did last year, and as we look back at all that happened in our own lives,
Remember. “We are God’s beloved. God is pleased with us.”
For we are the light of the resurrection and the reign of God here and now in this time and in this place. As God’s beloved sons and daughters, our job is to continue to be resurrection light out in the world, so that the world can see that the reign of God has indeed already drawn near!
Jesus has touched us, and blessed us and God has blessed this church, over and over and over.
So get up, and do not be afraid. Let’s head down the mountain and take up our crosses and follow Jesus wherever he will lead us, knowing that resurrection awaits.