February 2020

Transfigured on God’s Holy Mountain

7th Sunday after Epiphany, February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18, Matthew 17:1-9

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Throughout the gospels we find numerous occasions where Jesus instructed his followers to tell no one about the miraculous events they experienced in his presence. One occasion seems comical where, after healing a man of his deafness and speech impediment, he orders an entire crowd, “to tell no one.” (Mark 7:36)

Why is Christ silent? One reason was that the long-term spiritual healing of his message was more important than the short-term, instant gratification of physical healing. The second reason was that the popularity of his physical healing prevented him and his disciples from finding any time for rest.

However, in today’s gospel reading from Matthew, where Jesus and his inner circle of confidantes – Peter, John and James- finally find the needed time and space for rest on a mountain retreat, they all are enveloped in a miraculous theophany over which even Jesus has no control, where Christ is seen with Moses, Israel’s great lawgiver and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, confirming him as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets; and where he is once again confirmed as God’s beloved child. Yet even after this brilliant revelation of his divine authority, Jesus continues to instruct his disciples to tell no one what they have seen. In fact, his specific words, according to Matthew is to tell no one about the vision until after he “has been raised from the dead.” (17:9)

Now an informed reader of the gospels cannot help but wonder why, after all of these miraculous validations to Jesus’ messianic authority, his disciples would abandon him during his passion and time when he most desperately needed them. This inquiry has led many biblical scholars to assume that, while the experience of the mountaintop transfiguration is mentioned before the crucifixion, it was more likely a revelation that occurred after the resurrection.

Transfiguration Sunday marks the church’s transition from the Season of Epiphany, when the presence of Christ is revealed to us, to the Season of Lent, when we journey further by acknowledging our need to abide with Moses in that divine dark  cloud of fear and uncertainty, and to walk with Jesus through his passion and crucifixion if we are to fully comprehend the transfiguration of Christ and be, ourselves, transfigured.

Jesus, in the company of Moses and Elijah, visualized for his followers the legal and prophetic intent of God’s plan, namely to embody a mandate of divine love that ultimately realized the prophetic vision where humanity and nature lived in harmony with each other. And while Elijah may have been Israel’s greatest prophet, the prophetic vision, in my estimation, is best described in the words of Isaiah, where “the wolf shall live with the lamb…the lion shall eat straw with the ox. The nursing child shall play over the adder’s den,” and where no one “will hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord, “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (11:6-11)

God’s holy mountain is more than the physical abode where Moses received the law and Christ was transfigured, it is also that spiritual peak where our faith is transfigured to dream of promised lands where all live in dignity and safety, nourished in a toxic-free environment; where racial, ethnic, physical, cultural, sexual and gender differences are cause for celebration rather than fear; and where followers of Christ and children of God, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, fully embrace the joys and sacrifices of fulfilling their dreams.

Last year we engaged in a series of Bible studies about spiritual beliefs. This year, as part of our midweek Lenten worship we shall journey further by considering how our spiritual beliefs inform our concepts of the Promised Land or Beloved Community. It is nonsense for the church to continually employ such terminology if we have no practical knowledge of what we’re talking about.

“Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there” says the Lord. (Exodus 24:12) Together let us patiently and prayerfully wait, and rest, and learn, and see what God provides. Amen.