By Barbara Klugh
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is often known as Transfiguration Sunday because we always read the amazing story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Our readings this week inform and support each other, creating a lovely unity.
Exodus 34:29-35: Earlier, Moses smashed the two stone tablets of the covenant when he discovered that the people, under Aaron’s leadership, made a golden calf—an idol. That incident symbolized the breaking of God’s covenant by the people.
In this week’s reading, Moses went up the mountain again and came down with two new stone tablets of the covenant. He didn’t realize his face was shining because the reflection of God’s glory remained on his face. The people were afraid, but Moses called to them. He gave the Israelites the commandment the Lord had spoken, and then he covered his face with a veil. From then on Moses veiled his shining face after he finished speaking with the Israelites and unveiled it to return to the presence of God.
Here’s a fun fact from Chris Haslam, who comments on the lectionary through the Diocese of Montreal: “The word translated “shining” karan, can be written out as keren, meaning horn. Thus Jerome translated it, and so Michelangelo [and others] sculpted Moses with horns!”
Psalm 99: Our psalm this week is the last in a series of enthronement psalms, which give expression to the holiness and awesome power of God, who is enthroned on the holy mountain. The psalmist calls on all the people to praise God for his holiness, “The Lord is King; let the people tremble.” Our great and awesome God is a lover of justice, who answers those who call on him, who punishes when necessary, and who forgives.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2: In this week’s reading, Paul reflects on the difference between the Old Covenant (Law) and the New Covenant (Spirit). In this passage, Paul uses the veil over the glowing face of Moses as a symbol of the veiled minds of many who do not realize the divine glory that is manifested in Christ. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Through Christ we are able to see the glory of God with unveiled faces. Those who participate in the New Covenant experience God’s lasting glory. We are gradually being transformed into the image of God “from one degree of glory to another” through the Spirit.
Paul and Timothy did not lose heart in their ministry because the gospel message they proclaimed was from God. Among their accusers there were many who falsified God’s word to serve their own purposes.
Luke 9:28-43a: This week’s reading takes place eight days after Peter has declared Jesus to be God’s Messiah and Jesus predicted his suffering, death, and resurrection to his disciples.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain to pray. “And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets) suddenly appear and talk with Jesus about his “departure,” his coming death. Peter wanted to make three dwellings: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Peter may have wanted to prolong the experience, or he may be mistaken that Jesus is in the same category as Moses and Elijah. At this point a cloud came and overshadowed them; and the disciples were terrified. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Moses and Elijah vanished; Jesus was alone. “And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” It was not until the events of Jesus’ Passion had taken place that they could begin to understand what they had witnessed.
A Wikipedia article referred to Professor Dorothy A. Lee’s book, Transfiguration. I think she helps us to understand the significance of this miraculous event: “In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.”
Jesus could not bask in the mountaintop experience. On the very next day, Jesus is met by a large crowd, and a man cried out to Jesus to cast out the demon who has possessed his only son. In our day, we would say that the son was suffering from epilepsy. The disciples failed to heal the boy, and Jesus was angry and frustrated with them. The situation was chaotic, and immediately Jesus took control. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” At this point, the disciples were somehow lacking in the power of God, which Jesus clearly possessed.
Not being Jesus, we are unlikely to be transfigured, but we can slowly be transformed. First, we see that Jesus was in prayer. If even Jesus carved out the time to be with God in prayer, surely we can, too. Jesus had companions with him. We, too, need companions as we follow Jesus on the Way. And, if and when we have a dramatic mountaintop experience, we can’t stay there. We need to come down from the mountain and get back to work. The world needs healing. Let us shine as we reflect the goodness, the greatness, and the glory of God. Amen.