The Transfiguration of Jesus

In 2015 our son Joss completed a 3000 km trek walking the length of New Zealand. In 2016 he walked from Lands End to John O’ Groats. In 2018 he climbed all 282 of the Munros (mountains in Scotland) with a friend Peter. Through all 3 sponsored challenges he raised thousands of pounds for children’s cancer charities. His expeditions led him across rivers and mountain ranges and he said he felt a bit like Frodo in Lord of the Rings on journeys of epic proportions. Here are some photos to give you an idea of the mountain climbing challenges he met, not least the Black Cuillin Range on the Isle of Skye – definitely the toughest. (Joss is in the blue hat) Ish, our son Dan, and I joined them on Skye for a week on the final leg of the challenge, to give moral support and some home cooking, they had been living in a camper van for 3 months (I hasten to add we didn’t attempt to climb).

Joss wanted to raise funds for the Sussex Snowdrop Trust who provide palliative care for children in their own home. The Snowdrop nurses gave invaluable support to our family when we lost our grandson to a rare childhood cancer, and so Joss’s journey although an exciting adventure with beautiful landscapes and mountain views is also contrasted with the sad and painful memories of losing our grandson.

This Sunday’s lectionary reading, the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, is also one of great contrasts. It takes place about a week after Peter’s confession that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah. In the preceding chapter Jesus has fed 4000 people, he healed a blind man and yet he is criticised again and again by the Pharisees. He has warned his disciples about his imminent suffering and death and Peter refuses to believe that this will happen to Jesus and so is in denial.

Then we are told that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain probably Mount Hermon in the north east of Israel. It is approximately 9200 feet above sea level and is the only mountain in that region with a snow cap all year round. It would have taken them all day to climb to the summit. I can only imagine that when they reached the top the 3 disciples were totally exhausted. So, they sit down to rest and just as the sun is setting they pull their cloaks around them and huddle together to keep warm, slowly their eyelids droop and they drift off to sleep. But then suddenly, they become aware of a bright light dazzling them. And while they are still half asleep and in a confused state with the intensity of the light, they realise that Jesus has changed and that he is not alone but talking with Moses and Elijah, men who had been dead for many hundreds of years.

Now at this point we might want to ask – but how did they know it was Moses and Elijah? Well scholars say they just intuitively knew.  And so, this amazing passage gives us a wonderful insight into the past, the present and the future. The appearance of Moses and Elijah points to further contrasts,  the Old with the New Testament. For example, the transfiguration story in Luke 9 tells us that they were discussing with Jesus his departure which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. This meant his impending death, but the word used here is taken from the Greek meaning ‘exodus’. And Moses would have known all about the subject of exodus. Just as in the first exodus Moses used the blood taken from a sacrificial lamb to paint on the doorposts of those who were to be saved. Jesus’ own blood is about to be shed on the cross as the sacrifice to save all of humanity.

Jesus kept warning the disciples that he was about to suffer and to die. But Peter was in denial and would not accept it. So, who better to discuss his death with – than Moses and Elijah. But not simply about his death but the implications of his death and resurrection as the means of redemption for all humanity, typified by the Old Testament Exodus from Egypt. Peter is afraid of what was about to happen to Jesus. And when you are filled with fear you can react in various ways. You can freeze and become speechless, or you can talk too much. And Peter’s nerves get the better of him and he makes a silly suggestion. He wants to make a permanent feature of this amazing event and so he says. ‘Master it’s great on this mountain top. Let us build 3 booths or tents, one each for you, Moses, and Elijah’. Almost implying – let’s all stay up here together forever. This reaction is typical when we have what is sometimes called a mountain top experience, we want to capture it and just stay there. Let’s not think about the future let’s just stay in the present. And for many of us who can relate to a really amazing experience in our lives there are times when we just want to remain at the top of the mountain. Jesus was suspended as it were, as he stood on top of the mountain with the earth under his feet and his body caught up in the heavenly cloud, it was almost as if he was forming a bridge between the contrasting worlds of earth and heaven.  Then a voice came from the cloud declaring Christ’s sonship and his authority. The transfiguration marks a vital stage in the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

There are so many interesting contrasts in this event:

Christ is seen as taking time to be alone with his closest friends and his Father God. And yet within a short period of time he will be in the city of Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of people and on his way to his death.

There is the contrast between the old exodus out of Egypt and the new exodus where Christ is crucified on the cross and ascends to his father.

On the mountain he is seen as dazzling pure white but on the cross his body is marred beyond all belief bruised and bloodied carrying the weight of the sin of the world.

On the mountain he is seen in glory – yet on the cross he is humiliated.

On the mountain he is loved by friends – yet on the cross he is mocked by his enemies.

On the mountain he is in deep communion with his Father – yet on the cross he is abandoned and alone.

For most of us, life is one of many contrasts, of mountain tops and valleys that test us, sometimes we can get so clouded by our human judgement we don’t pay attention to the voice of God because we are trying to work things out with our human minds. But God knows this and that is why he sent his Son to come and live among us. Jesus knows what it is to be human, and he knows everything about us – all our trials and tribulations, weaknesses, and failings. And yet in this wonderful story he gives us a little glimpse of heaven- the hope that is to come. We can’t even begin to imagine how beautiful heaven must be because it is at the moment too holy, too precious, too deep for our human understanding, but Praise God we will see it one day. 


Heavenly Father as we have just read

Your Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured before his disciples upon the mountain. He spoke of his coming suffering and death so that we may be made clean and pure and live our lives according to your plan and purpose. Thank you that we can draw strength and encouragement from your word as we experience valleys and mountain tops. Thank you that you have a plan and purpose for us. Thank you that one day we will be with you in glory because of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord.