Sermon; Last Epiphany C; Luke 9:28-45
Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. All season we have been looking at the various ways Jesus has been manifested as the Christ to the world. It began with the star and foreign wise men from the east and the gifts they gave. We saw it in his baptism and heard the voice from heaven. We witnessed the water changed to wine and in the miraculous catch of fish. And we began to move from miraculous signs and wonders to manifesting Christ to the world in our daily lives by feeding the hungry, bringing laughter to those who mourn, loving our enemies, and doing good to those who hate you.
Today we get one last miraculous revelation as we see Jesus transfigured. His face changes and his clothes become dazzling white. This event isn't a story of how Jesus is changed as much as it is a story of Jesus being revealed for who he really is. The Transfiguration, coupled with the meeting of Moses and Elijah, the overshadowing cloud, and the voice proclaiming him to be God's Son, is an epiphany moment, a revelation, of Jesus as divine. And while we have moved from seeing Jesus revealed through the miraculous to Jesus being revealed through our own actions, it is this last epiphany event that reveals Jesus as part of the Godhead and worthy of our worship.
One of the things I have preached about on this passage is reminding people that we can't stay on the mountain. Peter wants to make three dwelling places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so that they can remain in that place. But Jesus isn't meant to remain in one place and we need to come down off the mountain to be with, and reveal Jesus to, the people. That said, it's also just as important to recognize that Jesus is God incarnate and it is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks to God. This is one of those times.
While he is transfigured, two men, Moses and Elijah, appear with him. The conversation they have revolves around Jesus' departure at Jerusalem. This departure literally translates as “his exodus.” As the original Israelites of the Exodus escaped captivity in Egypt and eventually died before their descendants crossed over to the Promised Land, the exodus of Jesus has him escaping the captivity (or, making captivity captive) of this sinful world and eventually dying before crossing over to life eternal. And just like the Exodus defined the Israelites, Jesus' own departure, his own exodus, helps define Christianity. As Jesus traverses his exodus, we also must do the same, knowing that deliverance doesn't come without trials.
As stated, the two men with Jesus are identified as Moses and Elijah. The exodus they speak of is ultimately the Crucifixion and Resurrection. For Luke, and for us, Jesus' ordeal is testified to in the Law and the Prophets; hence the presence of Moses and Elijah.
Another thing we need to pay attention to is the presence of the two men. The problem we have today is that most of us get the Bible in Sunday chunks. Most of us don't spend time reading, let alone studying, the Bible. I don't say that as a condemnation but as a statement of fact. So when we hear that two men appeared, and that they were identified as Moses and Elijah, I think our brains go something like, “Of course there were two men, because they were Moses and Elijah. It's like saying Mary and Martha, two women.” But we need to look at this in the whole of Luke's writings.
Turning to the Resurrection itself, Luke tells us that the women went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week to properly anoint the body. There they found the stone rolled away and were met by two men in dazzling clothes. And at the Ascension, as the apostles stood staring up into the heavens watching Jesus disappear, two men in white robes appeared and said, “Why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?” These instances of two men at the Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension, point to Jesus as being particularly connected to God.
Two other things give us a revealing, or epiphany of Jesus. First, his clothes became dazzling white. This recalls the experience of Moses when he encountered God. Jesus, also, encounters God and is transfigured. But it's more than an encounter – this is a revealing of his true nature. And it is this bright light of Jesus that Saul encounters on his way to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Who are you? I am Jesus.”
Second, and finally, is the cloud. During this event a cloud came and overshadowed Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John. Remember, it was the cloud of God that led the Israelites by day through the wilderness. It was the cloud of God that covered the mountain when Moses was receiving the Law. It was the cloud of the Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary so that her child would be holy. Today a cloud overshadowed everyone at this transfiguration event. Jesus ascended to heaven on a cloud, and is said to be returning the same way. Like the reference to the two men, Luke is using the overshadowing cloud to connect Jesus to God.
Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. We have spent the season looking at and for the various ways Jesus is made manifest. Yes, we had the story of the three wise men. Yes, we had the revelation at his baptism. Yes, we had water to wine and a catch of fish. We also had a movement from signs and wonders to our role in actively revealing Jesus to the world.
As we look back on these things, we could say Jesus was a man of miracles. We could say he was a prophet. We could say he was a teacher. We could, but we would be missing the point of the season.
The point of the Epiphany season is to see Jesus manifested to the world as the Christ, the Savior and Son of God. Today that point is made clear in the story of the Transfiguration.
Today we get a mountain-top experience. It's an experience of dazzling brightness and terrifying darkness. It's a glimpse of our own exodus out of sin and death into life and knowing that deliverance doesn't come without trials. It's a realization that we need to move off the mountain in order to be with the people who need to hear the Good News of God in Christ.
This final epiphany moment of the season shows us that Jesus is preacher, teacher, prophet, and healer; but he is also none of those and more than those. This final epiphany moment shows us that Jesus is God incarnate, worthy of our thanks and praise.
The question we all must answer is this: how will we make this proclamation and revelation that Jesus is God to the world around us?