Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 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.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 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.” (Matthew 17:1-9 NRSV)
We have names that describe him enormous terms:
Son of David
Son of Abraham
God’s beloved Son
Healer of disease and paralysis and sickness and demons and even nature’s assaults.
He is gentle and courageous
He speaks his mind
We can go on for a lot longer; I’m sure you’ve already begun adding your own descriptors to this list. We call him Jesus, God with us. The One who came to earth to walk among us and show us what’s important.
Yet, these titles barely begin to describe who he is.
We call him the “Jesus of history.” He is fully divine; he is fully human. And it’s in this moment of the transfiguration, that we see the two so clearly.
We see Jesus Christ: the Jesus of history. He was born and raised in a small outback village. He spent his final years as an itinerant preacher in Galilee, Samaria and Judea. He preached and taught with authority. He met people where they were and helped them find new life. He showed us how to live and how to live out our Christian experience. He was tried and convicted and executed. He was buried.
He is also the Christ of faith. This is the anointed One who had control and authority over disease and paralysis and sickness; even over nature. This is the Son of God whose birth was celebrated both on earth and in heaven.
Have you ever noticed how a person becomes a saint at their funeral? Often we gather with friends and family and the pieces of the loved one’s life are shared. And then we see that person more clearly.
Sometimes I thought of Uncle Ern as stodgy and narrow-minded. But, I learned later that when he inspected meat for the USDA, he graded the meat fairly and couldn’t be bribed. He spent his expense account on his vehicle, rather than as an addition to his salary. He believed that he owed his to his employer to spend his mileage money on a sturdy vehicle that would carry him around the mountains of Washington Sate. Stodgy? Yes. But, he left behind an example for other to follow. I appreciate him more today than I did when he was alive.
While the disciples stand on that high mountain, they see their rabbi being himself: fully human, fully divine. When he is transfigured they see more than their brains can possibly process. They understand only a bit. They can only see in the mirror dimly. It’ll take that journey to Jerusalem; more teaching and healing and preaching; a trial with trumped up charges; death on the cross; and, finally, but most importantly, resurrection. Then they’ll see face to face.
Only then will they look back on that moment of transfiguration and see the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Peter would write about it towards the end of his own life.
Perhaps you read and study scripture through the lens of the Jesus of history; the man who lived and had his being on earth; the man who modeled life for us.
Perhaps you find greater meaning in the Christ of faith: the one with power and authority; who transfigured in the presence of a few close disciples; who speaks to you in prayer.
Look once more at this passage. A voice from the cloud speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” It wasn’t the sight of Jesus transfigured that sent them to their knees; nor was it the sight of Moses the lawmaker and Elijah the prophet; nor was it the cloud that covered them.
It was the voice. Overcome by fear they fell to the ground. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t chastise them or rebuke them. Rather, he comes to them and touches them. Then tells them, “Come on. Get up. Be raised. No need to be afraid.”
He comes. He touches. He speaks.
Whether the Jesus of history or the Christ of faith, he comes to us and touches us and says, “it’s okay. Don’t fear. Be raised to this new life I’m offering you.”
Do not be afraid.
God touches us and calms our fears. Christ is glory and magnificence and power and mystery. Christ comes to us with love and gentleness. It’s more than we can grasp and understand, even 2,000 years later. I suggest that’s how the disciples felt that day on the mountain.
It’s more than we can grasp and understand. Yet, what we do grasp and understand is enough for now.
Who is Jesus Christ? He is Jesus of history. He is Christ of faith. Our words can only begin to describe him. And perhaps we can cling to Peter’s words spoken just a few days ago: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
With those words on our lips, let us proceed with caution and fear and awe into the Lenten season.
All glory and honor be to God.