You know what it’s like when someone looks different
Perhaps they have had good news
Perhaps they are pregnant
Perhaps they are in love
You see them differently – they are changed – transformed
The outward appearance reveals an inner, hidden secret
That is what is going on here
The secret of Jesus being the Messiah cannot be hidden any longer
Peter has already guessed it: earlier in this chapter we read:
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘the anointed one’, [in Greek, the Christ; in Hebrew, the Messiah] of God.’ (Lk 9:18-20)
But having been revealed as the Messiah, Jesus has a warning for them:
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Lk 9:23-26)
We had a foretaste of the Son of man coming in Glory at the end of time in our reading from the prophet Daniel
As I watched, thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One[d] took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
So now when we see Jesus transformed, with his face shining like the sun (says Matthew) and clothes dazzling white (whiter than bleach could make them says Mark) the disciples should be thinking perhaps of the prophesy of Daniel
Instead Peter is thinking of Moses in the desert in Exodus on a mountain receiving the 10 commandments from God and having his face shine having seen God
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29).
Peter sees Moses and Elijah and so starts thinking in OT terms about building tents for them
But this is not a return of Moses and tabernacles and the old laws
We are in the world of the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah
We are in the book of Daniel not Exodus
This is made clear when we hear that a cloud appears – the clouds of heaven.
If we were in any doubt then we have a voice from heaven to tell us – this is my beloved son – listen to him.
The disciples are terrified
In Matthew’s account:
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. (Mt 17:6-7)
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. (Mt 17:6-7)
How do they react to this dramatic encounter – do they go and tell the world that the Messiah has arrived?
When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Well what are we to make of this?
Where are we in the story?
Surely we are the disciples? As in 2 Peter – the “eyewitnesses”
Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty in recognising Jesus as our saviour
Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty telling people about our experience of God in Jesus Christ – though I know we all have those experiences
The good news from the Gospels is that this secret cannot be hidden
The truth as revealed by Jesus that God is love – the ultimate creating, renewing, restoring power in the universe, cannot be kept a secret
We will shortly meet with one another and with Christ in our holy Communion
We will meet with Jesus, face to face
Is it a co-incidence that the communion wafer is a gleaming, shining white circle like a face?
And as we receive Christ into ourselves should we not let that shining become a part of us?
Let ourselves be transformed by the knowledge of the love of God?
So that it shines out into the world through our faces and through our lives
So that people will look at us and say:
“you look different, what has changed?” Amen
Sermon given by Christopher Hancock for the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Martin’s Epsom and St. Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale (6th August, 2017)