Transfiguration Sunday

The Narrative Lectionary points us to Matthew 16:24-17:8 (psalm 41:7-10) this week, which is Transfiguration Sunday. Both the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary attempt to schedule Scriptures that follow the life of Jesus as it is told in a Gospel. Orthodox churches maintain a church calendar with specific Sundays of the year carrying specific meanings. In Churches of Christ, we typically have not observed these kinds of assignments beyond Christmas and Easter (and some churches not even those, but that’s a different subject!).

Even so, it is a challenge to preach on the transfiguration of Jesus found in our text. At least I find it difficult. For one, Scripture does not really give us any information on the significance of the Transfiguration. We can come up with some and appeal to early church writings about how this event was regarded. But the text itself seems as if it stands alone, aside from some discussion of Elijah that follows, and even then he is identified as John the Baptist. Even Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Another complication is that the Narrative Lectionary attaches this story to the previous teaching of Jesus on Discipleship. The connection seems to me to be made because being a disciple means taking up the cross (16:24), losing one’s life (16:25), and the suffering that Jesus would undergo eventually (17:12). I’m not sure all of that is connected together in Matthew’s mind. He does separate the discipleship talk and the transfiguration by six days (17:1).

None of that, of course, is going to be part of our Sunday sermons, so what will be? I will be focused on the Matthew 17 section. I do think either Matthew 16:24-28 or Matthew 17:1-8 would make good sermon spaces, but I don’t recognize a connection at this moment.

March is a time when winter begins to wind down (In Lousiania anyway!) and Spring is around the corner. I like to think of March as a time of renewal and new life. The Transfiguration fits nicely in that theme because it points us forward to Jesus.

In Matthew 17, it is Peter, James, and John who go up on the mountain with Jesus. This ‘inner circle’ is especially close to the Master. Each of them will play a leading role in the beginning, establishment, and strengthening of the earliest expression of the church. Matthew wastes no words, getting right into the event in verse 2:

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

Even as we imagine this scene, it brings forth so many questions and emotions. What a beautiful and mysterious sight it must have been to see Jesus glowing in such an expressive way. Even the inner circle had not seen this before, and they have seen a lot! More, Moses and Elijah. What they are all talking about is not revealed. How Peter, James, and John knew that this was Moses and Elijah, we do not know. (Someone suggested this is how we know there are nametags in heaven!) How long it lasted, we do not know.

We sometimes tease Peter for being such an outspoken bigmouth, but aren’t we glad he was? He speaks up and offers to put up three shelters (shrines, CEB; tents, ESV; tabernacles, NASB). While Moses and Elijah were amazing men who did amazing things, there is only one man about whom the voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!

I feel sure that I’ll be centering in on these words for the Sunday sermon. Listen to Him. There are other important voices in the world, but one soars above them all. There are influential people that really matter, but none more than Him. When we listen to Jesus we are listening forward, not looking backward. Though His words are ancient, He calls to us from eternity to follow Him, hear Him, and watch for His return.

Peter, James, and John didn’t do everything perfectly. But we do see them listening to Jesus above and beyond their Jewish heroes, Moses and Elijah. Listening to Jesus calls us to love others, to serve and care for the disenfranchised, and to avoid the nostalgia and dusty traditions that encumber most of our churches.

Some churches will be entering a time of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 6, and ending April 18, just before Good Friday. This is a time of self-denial, repentance, and turning to God. Some ministers will no doubt be talking about those elements during the weeks ahead.

I’d love to hear what you are thinking about as you prepare to teach from this text. You’re invited to join in the conversation and share resources at my Facebook group Narrative Lectionarians.