Just as we did for Advent, we will be posting a series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday’s sermon scripture during this season of Epiphany. You may use these devotions as you want – for yourself, with a group or as a family; all at once, or broken up throughout the week. We suggest you start with the Scripture readings before you engage the other pieces. Enjoy!
This story of Jesus and a few chosen disciples climbing a mountain and getting an unexpected (to the disciples) holy visage that includes Moses and Elijah and lights Jesus up like a light bulb is referred to as the Transfiguration, making this Transfiguration Sunday. The other major story of a transfiguration is in Exodus 34:29-35, when Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to talk with God, and comes down with the law and a glowing face.
Clearly, the significance of the glowing face and clothing has to do with close encounters with the Holy of Holies, God’s own self.* The significance of the appearance of Moses and Elijah is more complicated. They are revered as the greatest disciples and prophets in Judaism, partly because of their heavenly encounters – Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah being taken up into heaven at the end of his earthly life instead of a bodily death. This cements Jesus as revered among the greatest disciples and prophets, but there is more. As in Jesus’ baptism, God speaks to declare Jesus as Son of God, not just a prophet and leader.
Peter, in typical Peter fashion, wants to live right there on that mountain forever, basking in God’s glory. Who wouldn’t want to do that? We’d be pitching our tents right next to Peter up there. We talk of “mountaintop” experiences often in our faith – how they are powerful, important and glorious, but they are intended to instruct and empower us, not where we can or should live. First, as humans we cannot bear to be in the presence of such glory forever.* More importantly, we cannot remain in the glory of God when the rest of the world still suffers. Therefore, in a faith where God calls us to be conduits of God’s glory, we have to take that glory out into the world and share it. We do not remain on the mountaintop, but we take that feeling with us as we go.
Instantly, we see why this matters. As soon as they come down from the mountain, Jesus and the disciples encounter a crowd and a parent with a deeply ill child. We will save the conversation about miraculous healings for another day, and just say that the disciples are reminded of reality of the world quickly. That glory of God needs to be shared to meet the very real needs and suffering of the world – in healing, in teaching, in feeding, in friendship, in forgiveness.
On the mountain, the Spirit of God tells the disciples to “listen to him (Jesus).” And Jesus has been telling the disciples all along exactly what they need to do to follow – to heal, teach, feed, befriend, and forgive. The disciples are to understand that yes, they should bask in and live in God’s glory, but not away from the rest of the world on a remote mountaintop. God’s glory belongs throughout creation, and where it is hard to see, they were called to share it. We are called to share it.
There is no place where God does not exist, but there are places where it is harder to see God because of the real struggles people are dealing with. Where there is suffering, we bring healing and hope through our presence, through our prayer, through our words, and through the work of our hands.
*Fun fact – God told Moses he wouldn’t be able to actually look into God’s face, so actually shows Moses God’s back. Some people have interpreted this as God’s backside, or that God mooned Moses. All we will say is, if we have a sense of humor, and we are made in God’s image, we know God can be funny, too. We will let you make of that what you will.
- Can you think of a “mountaintop” experience where you have felt God’s presence? When/what was it? Were you with others or alone?
- When you have had “mountaintop” experiences, what have you wanted to do next – stay in that place and just enjoy it? Or share it with others? (ps – there are no right answers here, this is just a reflection for yourself)
- How might you carry that experience out into the world? What kinds of things can you do to help others also feel God’s presence?
Holy of Holies – though we cannot bear to see You in all of Your glory, we do wish to feel Your presence. Help us keep listening to You in Your words spoken and lived by Jesus. Lead us in the ways that we might bring Your glory to others. Help us see where there is suffering and lack of hope and bring healing and hope. We know that there is no place You are not, so wherever we go, we are simply revealing Your presence through our love. May our presence reveal Your presence. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.