Engaging the Word: 02/26/17 (The Last Sunday after the Epiphany)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is 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 beautiful whole.

Moses on Mount Sinai by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1826-1904). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Moses on Mount Sinai by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1826-1904). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Exodus 24:12-18: After the Israelites escaped from the Egyptians, it was three months before they reached Mt. Sinai. Then Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and the statutes and ordinances. Moses told all the words of the Lord to the people “and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’” They ratified the Covenant with the sacrifice of oxen and blood—“the blood of the covenant.”

This week’s reading is a holy drama. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” Moses must have had an inkling that this visit would take awhile, because he sets out with his assistant Joshua, and leaves Aaron and Hur to settle any disputes while he’s gone.

When Moses went up the mountain, the cloud (the glory of the Lord) settled on Mt. Sinai and covered it for six days. Then on the seventh day, God called to Moses out of the cloud. “Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” Our reading ends there, but it is during this time the people became tired of waiting and persuaded Aaron to make the golden calf.

Psalm 2: Our psalm is a royal psalm, most likely composed for a coronation or its anniversary. It tells us that people can either rebel against God and “his Anointed” and perish, or follow God’s authority and be blessed. The Church sees this psalm as about God’s rule through Jesus Christ. Verse 7: “Let me announce the decree of the LORD: he said to me, “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.”

St. Peter by Albrecht Durer, 1526. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Peter by Durer, 1526. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Peter 1:16-21: In the judgment of many scholars and Church fathers, both ancient and modern, the apostle Peter was not the author of 2 Peter. Yet I like the comment in The Life with God Bible: “No matter who we settle on as the author though, it is important to remember that the Church has accepted this letter into the canon as a trustworthy guide for us who wish to follow Jesus as Lord.” This works for me, and I will call the author Peter.

The letter was written to contradict the false teachers who said that the hope of the Second Coming was untrue. Peter says the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is not a myth. He was an eye-witness to the “Majestic Glory” of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Mountain, and Peter heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.” Thus, the authority of Peter’s prophetic message regarding the Second Coming trumps the teachings of false prophets.

Matthew 17:1-9: In the previous chapter, Peter confessed to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Our reading takes place six days later.

Transfiguration of Jesus by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1800s. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Transfiguration of Jesus by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1800s. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets) suddenly appear and talk with Jesus. Peter wants to make three dwellings one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Peter may want to preserve the experience, or he may be mistaken that Jesus is in the same category as Moses and Elijah. But God sets him straight. 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!” Not surprising to me, the disciples “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Moses and Elijah vanish; only Jesus is left. As they went down the mountain, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone about this “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Wikipedia has a reference 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.

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