July 19, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 9:28-36.
About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
“After he said this” may refer to Jesus’ admonition to his disciples that anyone who wished to follow him must take up his cross daily. Luke Timothy Johnson in The Gospel of Luke rightly describes this passage as extraordinarily dense. There is much symbolism and correlations among the lives of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah — all prophets, voices, of God.
Jesus had gone to the mountain to pray, to seek God’s guidance as he journeyed toward Jerusalem. I think I sometimes overlook that because I focus so much on the transfiguration of Jesus’ appearance, but it’s actually one of the main points. In my own experience God responds to my prayers in many different ways. It seems that was true for Jesus as well.
It was becoming clearer to Jesus what his destiny was and, as a human being, he was deeply troubled and agitated. As always, he turned to God for clarity of purpose, for strength to persist, and for consolation of his fears. In answer to Jesus’ prayer God sent Moses and Elijah or their spirits to give counsel and encouragement to Jesus as he looked forward to almost certain rejection, suffering, and death on the cross.
Luke’s is the only gospel to include the topic of conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah — Jesus’ exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem, his crossing into the promised land, the kingdom of God. Jesus had much in common with Moses and Elijah and could be comforted by their experiences and hearing them through the scriptures that he knew so well. Through his prayer he was suffused with God’s spirit, with peace. The disciples observed this trance-like appearance of Jesus in communion with his Father and his acceptance of his Father’s will as a kind of radiance. Jesus was at peace.
I have seen this same kind of transfiguration in others who have experienced close communion with God and I have felt it in myself. It is a rare thing for me because I don’t often spend time with God, quiet and unconcerned about time. I don’t often open myself to Him, asking Him to enter me, simply being receptive. More often I want to do the talking and that usually doesn’t end in a place of peace. It is somewhat frightening to let myself be so open, so vulnerable, so free of boundaries that allows God to envelop me as if He were a cloud. it’s much easier for me to imagine Him as a person who embraces me, but in perceiving Him in that way I’m able to retain my identity, my separateness, and make Him something distinct from me. To de-personify Him and allow Him to consume me is something I instinctively want to ward off. On the rare occasions it has happened, it has been involuntary, not an act of will. I’ve been able to relax my boundaries to the point that God is able to permeate them and flood into me. I momentarily lose all control as if I’m in suspense.
I think that’s what Jesus experienced on a regular basis, but as an act of will. It enabled him to become so conjoined with God that he was able to perform miracles and speak with the voice of God and to face his fate with steadfast resolve. I can more often be transfigured in that way and I can do things beyond what I believe I am capable of. But it requires that I lose myself in God and that’s not an easy thing for me to do.