Apocalyptic. My guess is that is not a word many of us throw out often in our daily conversations with friends, family, and strangers. Throughout the Bible there are apocalyptic books and visions. If something in the Bible is apocalyptic, it speaks of a revelation of God’s plan to bring to end the pain and suffering of the world and reveals God’s redeeming purposes throughout creation. John’s Revelation is a common example of an apocalyptic vision. A vision where God’s redeeming purposes throughout creation is to “wipe away every tear from mortals eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed.”
Today it is important that we talk about apocalyptic visions and books of the Bible because it will help us understand more clearly today’s gospel lesson of Jesus’ Transfiguration.
This story might be difficult to wrap our minds around because it is not about an ordinary moment on a mountain top. Jesus is shining bright, and his clothes dazzling white. Suddenly there is Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses the one who helped the people receive God’s law and Elijah the great prophet who would come back to announce when the Messiah was coming (Mal. 4:5). The two of them talking with Jesus. This is the definition of apocalyptic!
In this apocalyptic moment while Jesus is bright and dazzling, and Moses and Elijah are standing there; Peter, James, and John seem to believe that this is the moment when God reveals God’s plan to redeem creation. After all, they heard Jesus talk about how the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. They know their scripture and fact that the prophet Daniel said that when the resurrection happens “those who are wise shall shine like brightness of the sky and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever”. It seems the moment is here!
Peter so in awe of the moment and confident that this is THE MOMENT of God’s redemption plan, interrupts the conversation Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are having and says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here, if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wanted to make sure he could stay in this moment forever. He must have believed at this moment death, crying, and pain were going to be no more, and he was standing in God’s new heaven and new earth forever. Then as he was still trying to make sure all the dwelling places were secure, this apocalyptic vision was not finished. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; Listen to him!”
MIDDLE OF SACRED JOURNEY
It is possible that Peter, James, and John were not at Jesus’ baptism so maybe they never heard these words before. But for us Christians, we have. Jesus ministry and purpose were marked at his baptism when the heavens opened up and the spirit descends upon Jesus and voice said “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well please.” Likewise as a resurrection people when we hear the story of Jesus bright and dazzling, that image makes us think of Jesus appearing to the disciples after they discovered the tomb was empty. If Jesus’ baptism is the beginning and Jesus’ bright shining resurrection is towards the end of the story, then today’s transfiguration is marking the middle of Christ’s sacred journey. In this significant story of Christ’s sacred journey we get a reminder of where Jesus began his ministry and a glimpse of God’s plan to redeem creation through Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
With these words from the cloud, “this is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him!” The disciples who thought they were now in God’s heavenly kingdom forever, are now afraid because they know that Christ’s sacred journey and their sacred journey will continue in the world that is down below from the mountaintop. “Listen to him!”…They have been listening to Jesus’ words since he called them to follow him. They know his teachings stand in stark contrast to how the world wants to work. They know his teachings make discipleship full of uncomfortable moments that resist the status quo. They know suffering lies ahead.
They were there for his sermon on the mount. A sermon that opened up a proclamation that God’s promises were for all, especially the poor, weak, and grieve stricken. They heard him preach those challenging words that they need to love their enemies, they need not judge others, and they should do unto others as you would have them to unto you. They heard him proclaim that you can not serve God and serve wealth and power at the same time. They were all there when he told them he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the 3rd day be raised from the dead. When Peter rebuked Jesus and could not believe that would happen to Jesus, they were all there when Jesus reminded them all that they have their mind not on divine things, but on earthly things. They were all there when Jesus proclaimed to them that if anyone wants to be my followers they need to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”
Now in this holy moment on the mountain, God is not only reminding them again who Jesus is but that they must listen and obey all those things Jesus said. This mountaintop experience is not the end of a sacred journey, the journey still has ways to go. With this knowledge, it is no wonder they wanted to cling tight to this apocalyptic vision that was giving them a glimpse of the time when pain and suffering will end, and God’s ultimate plan to love and redeem creation is fulfilled. Overwhelmed with the next phase of the journey and the kind of world that awaits them, they fell to the ground afraid…Do you blame them?
Jesus also knows what lies ahead for him, for the disciples, for the church that will soon form and begin its journey. There will be a world that will reject God’s truth, a world focused on power. A world focused on hating enemies. A world focused on exploiting neighbor and stranger. A world that turns its back on the poor and vulnerable. A world focused on earthly things and not heavenly things.
Yet he also knows that the world needs his love and compassion. The world needs to know God’s truth revealed through him. The world needs the love, compassion, and empathy of his followers. The world is in desperate need of love and hope.
GOD WITH US
Like the disciples and Christians centuries before us who have walked the difficult sacred journey of discipleship in a fearful and broken world, there are many elements of this story that brings hope to our hearts and minds. There is the dazzling bright light that gives us a glimpse of Christ’s resurrection to come later in his journey. A resurrection that will tell the world that nothing, not powers of the world, not death can separate us from the love of God.
There is the awe of the cloud and the voice that not only proclaims Jesus’ divine authority but reminds us to lean on his teachings to guide us in our own journey. Teachings and stories to care for the poor and vulnerable, to resist the earthly things and its power and focus on the heavenly things and its power. Lessons like loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and loving your neighbor as you love your self.
Then there is the hopeful moment when the disciples are overwhelmed that the journey still has ways to go and Jesus reassures them with actions and words. He touches them, the same touch that healed lepers and sick children, the the same touch that gave sight to the blind, and he says… “Get up and do not be afraid.” For me those words combined with his compassionate touch, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I know the road ahead will be difficult at times as you face a world in need. Get up because the world needs your love and compassion. Get up and do not be afraid, because I will be with you always. I will be present in your heart to guide you in faithful listening and to help you follow me so you may be your own light to the world. Get up and do not be afraid.” Jesus’ touch of comfort and courage towards Peter, James, and John and his encouraging words are a reminder that Jesus is truly our Emmanuel, our God with us.
We can get up and go and not be afraid because Jesus is with us always. Words he will remind the disciples after the tomb was empty when he appears to them resurrected. A similar scene to today’s mountaintop story. A resurrected Jesus stands there, I imagine bright as shinning as he was during his transfiguration. In that apocalyptic moment he reveals God’s ultimate plan that death does not have the final say, God’s love does. He tells them go and spread the good news to all the nations…and then he tells them those comforting words for their journey ahead, “and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
CHRIST IS ALIVE
Soon we will continue our journey and find ourselves in Lent. A journey where we will look to deny our self centered tendencies and follow Christ. During this journey and the weeks ahead, let us remember the hope that has been revealed through Christ’s sacred journey. Christ is alive and is risen so we know pain, suffering, and death will not win in our journey of life and faith. The empty tomb reveals God’s ultimate plan to love and redeem creation through Christ. With this good news flourishing in our hearts may we get up and not be afraid to face a world in need. May hope and love guide us when we are overwhelmed and afraid. Alleluia Amen!