Scripture Reading: Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, suddenly 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!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
O God, in holy moments, we do not always know how to respond. Should we say something? Should we be still? Should we try to be more actively involved somehow? Or should we step back and reflect? It is good for us to know that even Jesus’s own disciples, even the ones who usually were the first to sign up and the first to help, sometimes didn’t know how to respond. It’s good to know that they were sometimes even frightened by the presence of God. Help us to always respond with awe when we see your face, and help us to always hear Jesus, reminding us that we do not have to be afraid.
Thoughts on the Scripture:
I feel like I’ve heard a lot of sermons on this text in which we’re told about the joy and wonder of “mountaintop moments” and Peter’s mistaken notion that we can set up shop and live into them indefinitely. It’s the everyday lived faith, informed by this revelation, that we’re called to…
There’s wisdom in that. Still, not all of us experience the expected “mountaintop” moments of the Christian faith. As a mainline Protestant, I was baptized as an infant and confirmed with the other eighth graders. I was ordained in a worship service of several thousand people surrounded by church officials I neither knew nor particularly loved. I cannot tell you when I was saved, could not name the top moment in which I saw God in a new and profound way. My most ecstatic religious moments come when singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” accompanied by some practiced brass musicians. That all goes to say that, yes, we need to know how to live out a mundane, everyday faith–because mountaintop experiences are never a given.
But I’m not sure those sermons were accurately reading Peter’s offer of help or its significance for us. Many details in the reading for Transfiguration Sunday (the last before Lent!) are surely highlighted by Matthew to parallel Hebrew Bible stories of Moses and Elijah, thereby placing Jesus in line with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). They’re on a mountain, there’s a shining face and a cloud of smoke: these were all markers of other moments of divine revelation, too.
In those times of revelation, there is a clear and continuing concern for where the Lord will dwell. On the holy mountain, in the ark of the covenant, in the tabernacle or the temple. This is probably Peter’s concern: not that he should dwell on the mountain, but that Jesus, Moses and Elijah, divine messengers, should.
Of course, then a voice comes from heaven naming Jesus not just as divine messenger, but as beloved son of the living God. Jesus isn’t going to stay here, and doesn’t need a tent. This Son of God is on the move.
Peter and the others are terrified: this is new. A new way of seeing their teacher and friend. But Jesus reminds them, they need not be afraid.
Have you ever had a “mountaintop” moment, a flash of revelation, recognition or realization?
Tell the story with your kids. Have they ever had an experience of seeing a friend in a new way?
Why would the disciples be afraid? Do you think they were comforted by Jesus’s reassurance? What makes you feel better when you’re afraid?
-I’m pretty convinced that this reading calls for some dedicated family time playing in a tent or building a fort. I’d suggest using chairs and furniture as a base, if you don’t have a pop-up tent. There could be two practices associated with this:
First, designate different areas of the fort for different activities: praying, resting, eating, reading. What places would God need if the Lord came to rest in your tent?
Second, engage in some imaginative play. Whether it’s silly or dedicated, imaginative play is often revelatory.
–Find the stories in the Hebrew Bible that are referenced in the Transfiguration story.
Read about Moses and the giving of the Law and Elijah. What details are the same and different? Demonstrate how the Bible was written over a long period of time and talk about how the New Testament writers would have been familiar with many of the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Why would Matthew want us to know that Jesus was with Moses and Elijah?
–Look at pictures of your family at different ages, or, if you can bear it, read through old diaries. How does seeing you, the parent, as a kid, help your children to see you in a new way?