Transfiguration Sunday, Year C, 2/22/04
Mountain Top Experience
ll of his life Jesus had admired the beauty of snow capped Mount Hermon , which stood only fifty miles north of Nazareth , the highest peak in Palestine . And now, just a few weeks before his final march to the Jerusalem , the Father granted him a transfiguring experience on top of that beautiful dreamland of his youth. Jesus' humanity needed this reassurance for it was with his human side that he was to face his appointment with terror. Jesus' Transfiguration was a time of renewed spiritual strength and a reminder of his greater purpose.
God's gift to His Divine Son brought the additional blessing of the presence of Moses, who in his day had also talked directly with God on a mountain top. (Exodus 34) Moses' face also glowed when he came back down from the mountain carrying the tablets containing The Ten Commandments. Elijah also appeared in glory at Jesus' Transfiguration experience. This Prophet Elijah had walked so closely with God that he never went through the experience of death, but had been transported directly into heaven in a chariot of fire. (II Kings 2)
The Father also allowed Jesus to have his three best friends with him on this glorious occasion. It must have made the events of Christ's Passion even more horrendous for these selected apostles for they did not understand during the torture of Christ exactly what it all meant. Perhaps the memories from the Mount of Transfiguration gave them some twinkling of the deeper purpose of the terrible events surrounding Jesus' death. The experience had affirmed Jesus' divinity to Peter, James and John, and this may have made it even harder for them to understand why he had to die this torturous death. Only later did the Holy Spirit help them to sort things out in a way that they could finally see the big picture of just what they had been a part of in the Christ event, the most important event of all time that made possible the means of humanity's redemption and eternal life.
Jesus' transfigured image in his divine glory on the mountain top had provided the three Apostles with an extraordinary spiritual crescendo: "the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white." (v.29, NRSV) The experience that these three Apostles went through, in my opinion, was something of a foreshadowing of the experience that most believers have through conversion. If Jesus needed this intense reassurance before he faced the Cross, then certainly it was an experience that the apostles needed to fortify them to fulfill their critical role in the traumatic events of Jesus' Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and then their leadership in establishing the first churches throughout the Mediterranean world.
This may further help us to understand why it is important for us to experience a similar conversion, or transition experience. It is a part of human nature that we need highly emotionally charged events to fortify our faith in Christ and our growth in discipleship and our part in the mission as the Christian Story continues to unfold. We may best compare our spiritual transformation to the human experience of falling in love. It too is a highly charged emotional even that prepares us for, and strengthens our commitment to marriage. It may have had logical components that verified that we were marrying the right person for us, but without the passion and fervor of love, a marriage would be difficult to hold together. The story of Jesus' Transfiguration conjures up familiar feelings that we have all had. It was an emotional experience similar to our conversion, our marriage, the birth of our children and many others.
Although Jesus and the apostles had a tremendous experience, Jesus knew that their future ministry with people was in the valleys ahead. Indeed, if they had stayed on the mountaintop they would have missed the little boy who was waiting for his healing. Just as Jesus' Sonship was revealed on the mountaintop, back in town his power over sickness was seen by many when Jesus healed the child.
Our ministry is also in the valleys of life where people are hurting. Evil remains rampant in our world. Forces still threaten human life. Families are more fragile than ever. Disease seems more prevalent. Poverty, hunger, crime, violence, racism, elitism, and the never-ending threat of world war all remain an ever-present threat to humanity's survival. And God has chosen us to be voices of hope and instruments of change. Ours is a message of hope and redemption. It is the same message that Jesus commissioned the first disciples to go out into the entire world to proclaim. We march forth driven by the assurance of the Spirit and with a power to proclaim the Good News of new life in Christ, the possibility that persons can be powerfully changed and re-molded, an ongoing assurance that we belong to Christ, and a new purpose to guide our lives. Just like Peter, James and John who never looked back after Pentecost when they were allowed to experience a complete understanding of the Christ Event and their purpose as missionaries and evangelists; so do we have the opportunity to share in God's eternal purpose of extending salvation to every soul. And all who believe are called to be a part of the task. We are called to, “…reflect like mirrors the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured in ever increasing splendor into his own image..." (Phillips).
Empowered by the conversion, calling and purpose that God has given us we march onward as soldiers, under the banner of Jesus Christ to change the world. Our memories of the Mountain Top energize us with divine grace, power and purpose as we go out to change the whole wide world.
In his popular book, The Question of God , Dr. Armand Nicholi, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, continually speaks of C. S. Lewis before his conversion, and the new Lewis after his transition. This is compared to another great mind of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud, who never came to terms with basic belief in the existence of God, yet contributed greatly to the world of psychological understanding although his personal life was a continual mess. The first half of Lewis' life was a similar disaster, but in the second half of his life he was a new man through the redemptive power of Christ in him. Lewis' conversion was not unlike what happened to the Apostles at Jesus' Transfiguration. Likewise, each of us needs to experience some kind of conversion. Over half of Americans say that they have had an experience that they would call a new birth; hopefully all are genuinely by the power of Christ, but we do know that it is possible for us and that it is available for every believer.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor