... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Last Sunday after Epiphany Year B, Message Feb 19th, 2012

Transfiguration: Hope and Encouragement

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany – the season of God’s self revelation to the world in and through Jesus of Nazareth – and as such it seems most appropriate that the readings for today should be the most explicit story of that self revelation – the Transfiguration of our Lord. Traditionally this celebration is held on August 6th following Pentecost, but as Mark’s gospel account evident, the transfiguration occurred prior to Jesus’ journey up to Jerusalem and the last days of his earthly ministry.

Preceded by accounts of Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry in which the disciples have been portrayed as blind and slow to learn the lessons of each healing and the various teachings, the transfiguration becomes a pivotal moment in the lives of the disciples – a moment they can no longer ignore or feign ignorance. Here is the moment of total disclosure.

Over the past few weeks we have been witness to the various healings wrought by Jesus and how each had a deeper meaning attached to it – a meaning which pitted Jesus’ true identity and mission against both the disciples and the religious authorities. Whereas the religious leaders are blind and obstinate, refusing to even consider possibilities of who Jesus is and what he brings, the disciples are at least open to possibilities even if portrayed as slow on the uptake.

From the healings heard about in the last few Sundays much time has passed, many other healings have taken place, many teachings have occurred and two feeding miracles have been recounted and in each instance the disciples have been shown as still unable to grasp who this Jesus really is. In the chapter immediately preceding today’s reading Jesus performs his second feeding miracle and Mark tells us that the disciples having forgotten to bring any bread save 1 loaf are trying to figure out how the people are going to be fed. Jesus admonishes them, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”

Amid this accusation of blindness and deafness on their part, Jesus proceeds to heal a blind man and almost immediately asks his followers, “Who do people say that I am?” After they tell him the scuttlebutt and rumours of the populace Jesus then asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” The time has come! These disciples must make the choice – they must hear and see and understand if what lies ahead is to be of any value. And Peter the impulsive disciples blurts out, “You are the Messiah!”

Whether this was a stab-in-the-dark guess on Peter’s part or a genuine glimpse anew at his teacher we are not sure, because once having made this declaration he is shown to be unaware of what messiahship actually means. Peter, the oft-times spokesman for the disciples, when hearing that Jesus must go to the cross, rebukes Jesus and tries to argue Jesus out of this course of action.

It is in this setting of blindness and incomprehension that Jesus takes Peter James and John up the mountain where they witness the transfiguration. For them and all the disciples this is an apocalyptic moment. It is the point where God personally enters the story to reveal what had been heretofore hidden from human perception or understanding. Mark uses these moments at the beginning, here in the middle and at the end to highlight to his listeners the real Gospel message that God is with us and that the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus. Thus at the beginning we hear God speak to Jesus, today we witness God speaking to the disciples and later we are present when the “young man” announces to the women at the tomb that Jesus is risen. The focus is on God, God’s presence and the identity of Jesus as God’s anointed one.

In what must have been reminiscent of the stories about Moses when he first went up the mountain to be given the tablets of the law, and about Elijah and his assumption into heaven, the disciples witness Jesus being transfigured and standing with both Moses and Elijah. In the company of the law and the Prophets Jesus is finally illumined as the Son of God and the Son of Man. And still the disciples didn’t quite get it.

Maybe it was out of fear as Mark recounts or perhaps out of an emotional ecstasy Peter speaking for the others attempts to enshrine the event by stating, “Rabbi it is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And here we enter into the ethos of the events for so often in times of emotional mountain top experiences the human desire is to retain to hold onto or to attempt an immortalization of them. There are many church buildings still standing on sites of experienced religious and spiritual awakenings.

And so being drawn in the next scene becomes an address to all who struggle to see, hear and comprehend the gospel reality. The cloud overshadows them and from the cloud a voice comes, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” If there had been any doubt before, there are none now. The voice which at Jesus’ baptism spoke to Jesus alone now addresses the disciples and confirms what their eyes have just seen. But more importantly the voice gives a directive to listen to Jesus. The God of all has backed up Jesus’ authority and no longer can there be any doubts any opposition or arguing about what lies ahead.

The transfiguration confirms Jesus’ status as the Son of God and affirms that the mission of salvation can only be by way of the cross. Yet in true human character, the disciples appear to have second thoughts as to what they had witnessed and what it would all mean for them. Here too Mark is very pastoral for those who follow. The disciples become our guides to understanding our humanity, our fears our foibles our doubts our insecurities along life’s spiritual journey. Here those who have witnessed the ultimate mountain-top experience are seen as struggling as to what it means in their lives and by extension what it means for us in our struggles. Their struggles become notes of hope and encouragement in the darkness which this life often presents.

May we entering into the transfiguration experience find hope and encouragement to bolster our faith to strengthen us in times of darkness and despair and to lead us into the light of true life.