The transfiguration of Jesus is certainly an intriguing event for him and the three disciples who were privileged to be there that day and to experience the events that transpired. Jesus took Peter, James, and John, to a high mountain and “was transfigured before them,” is how Matthew puts it. The event is clarified a bit when it is added that his face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “white as light.” Not only that, but Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah who were “conversing” with him.
How must the three disciples have reacted to this? Clearly with awe and wonder and confusion about the meaning of the event as it touched them. Peter grapples with it by announcing, “Lord it is good that we are here,” and he wants to capture the event physically by setting up “three tents” for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Then, even more grandeur is added with the announcement of the words heard at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Talk about wondrous and mind-boggling!
What’s there for us as we contemplate this scene filled with images of awe and promise? In that frame of reference, Peter’s comment seems utterly appropriate. I’d want to somehow capture the event and not let go of it, but, as the story progresses, it is clear that life goes on and the transfiguration itself is just a brief moment in Jesus’ and the disciples’ lives. It seems to be a kind of preview of coming attractions, but for now there is much to be done and an urgency to get to the task.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to the disciples indicating the invitation to them to continue their journey with him which will lead them to the terror of the cross as they approach Jerusalem on their final journey. The momentary grandeur of the transfiguration gives way to the reality of the goal: Jerusalem and his death and resurrection. The momentary gives way to the permanent in the sense that for Jesus the bright-white glory that is actually his will shine through finally and forever as he gives himself over to God’s will.
Don’t we all need to hear the “do not be afraid” message of Jesus to us as we continue to search for our response to God’s call in Christ? There’s a promise in the transfiguration that comes to fruition as we continue our walk with Jesus. That promise shone forth in Jesus’ visage as he conversed with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the harbinger of the last days.
Like the disciples, we are encouraged to keep on the journey with Jesus and to keep our focus squarely on him as the events of his life move towards their fulfillment in God’s design. Like them we will waver, but the more we keep our gaze on him, the more we make ourselves open to following in his steps, and that makes all the difference in the world whether that world is as bright as the transfiguration or as dark as the cross.
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