Our class on Tuesday evening had a lot of questions about some details in the gospel text, so I’ll reread parts of the text and explain some of the details.
2Six days later: when we see a note like this, we want to know what happened six days ago. It turns out that it was Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. This was followed by Jesus’ statement that he would soon be killed and raised again. To which Peter said, “No, Lord! That will never happen to you!”
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. Peter, James and John are the three lead disciples. Perhaps we can think of them as deacons, or officers. They are shown more because more will be expected of them after the resurrection. They will be charged with building Jesus’ church.
Jesus was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. Jesus’ appearance was changed, and his clothes became whiter than we humans can imagine. White is the traditional color of angels, and of the divine. It may be the same white people have reported when describing near-death experiences. Jesus’ clothes turn white to demonstrate that he is the holy one of God. Jesus is the Son of God. The disciples are looking at God’s glory displayed in Jesus.
4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Moses is usually thought to represent the Torah, the covenant between God and people. He is sometimes called a prophet, and the people are waiting for a promised prophet like Moses.
Elijah represents the prophets who call the people back to worship of the Lord. We read this morning about Elijah’s non-death. He was carried to heaven in a chariot without first dying. There is a tradition that he will return, either as the Messiah, or as a predecessor to the Messiah. The appearance of Moses and Elijah tells the disciples that Jesus is the promised son of God, the Messiah. This is big news, good news!
In response to the vision, Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Peter is suggesting that they make little shelters and stay for a while to get to know each other. The dwellings would be like those used for Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival. The shelters, or booths, remind the Jews that their ancestors spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.
But Peter really did not know what to say, for they were terrified. They have never experienced anything like this, and they don’t know what to make of it. Even more, then, there is a voice coming, it appears, from the clouds. The voice is the voice of God. At Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice was heard only by Jesus. “You are my son, and I’m proud of you.” This time, the voice speaks to the disciples. “This is my son. Listen to him!”
What are we to make of this story? Shortly before Jesus heads to Jerusalem for the last time, he reveals himself as God’s Son by revealing God’s glory. He lets the disciples know that he is the fulfillment of all that has been promised by God through Moses and the prophets beginning with Elijah.
The disciples are trying to understand what is happening by fitting something new into their old experience. They want to make booths, to enjoy the moment with Moses and Elijah. They are attempting to put a square peg into a round hole. And with God, that is not a good idea.
We know that the disciples are looking for a messiah, and believe that he will be a new King David who will form a powerful army and get rid of the Romans. They are not expecting the messiah to be an incarnation of the divine – God with skin on. They are not expecting the messiah to be crucified like a common traitor to the empire. And they certainly are not expecting the resurrection, even though Jesus has predicted it several times. They are not expecting a square peg, which will never, ever fit into a round hole.
We, too, try to fit square pegs into round holes. There was a story in the news this week about a fashion show featuring role models instead of fashion models. The women in the show included actor Jamie Brewer. She is known for her roles on American Horror story, and for her leadership in several societies. We usually think of models and actors as fitting a particular mold. But Jamie is different; she has Down Syndrome. She is a square peg who doesn’t fit into the usual round hole, and she challenges our thinking about actors and models.
Christians have a long history of having things a certain way. In this way, we are not much different from the ancient Jewish leaders. We like worship the way we like it, and are reluctant to make changes. We like certain kinds of music, and hesitate to experience other forms. We choose seats in worship and during coffee hour, and sit in them every week. We do not like it when someone asks us to change the shape of our round hole to match the new circumstances of an evolving square culture. We like our round pegs because they fit nicely into our comfortable old round holes.
And yet, since God is always doing a new thing, and these new things are always for our benefit, we must work at thinking in new ways all the time. We must always be looking for God’s light to be shining and showing us the new path we are to follow. We must always be preparing and opening our hearts for what God is doing, and not allow ourselves to get caught trying to maintain our round holes when God has crafted new square pegs. In this way, we will be permitted to view the glory of God, as the disciples did so long ago on the mountain.
Holy One, you revealed yourself to the disciples in a blaze of glory. You reveal yourself to us in subtler ways: in a bite of bread and a sip of wine; in a splash of water; in a cross of oil on our foreheads. Lead and guide us to follow wherever you lead, and help us to trust that new adventures are your will for us. Amen