Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 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.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ (NRSV).
The account above is usually called ‘The Transfiguration’. Clearly this is because, as the story unfolds, Jesus is ‘transfigured’ – changed, or revealed.
The event occurs, importantly, before his closest disciples: Peter, James, and John. These are, on a number of occasions throughout this gospel, exclusively invited by Jesus to join him. The inner three see more of Jesus than anyone. They are the insiders.
Peter, James, and John are woven into the very fabric of this passage. They are at its forefront. It is, in so many ways their story: Jesus is transfigured before ‘them’; the conversation between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus appears to ‘them’; Peter’s words reveal that he considered the experience personally beneficial; the cloud covers ‘them’; the voice addresses the three; their fear-filled response is highlighted, they are surprised to find Jesus alone, and; it is they who are ordered to hold silence.
This is a story focused on the experience of the disciples.
And with good reason. Jesus’ repeated attempts to prepare the twelve for his coming passion, death, and resurrection have fallen on ears that seem unable to hear. Since Peter’s declaration: ‘You are the Messiah’, Jesus has been teaching them the implications of this world-shattering discovery.
This Messiah will suffer, die, and rise. This is so bizarre that Peter takes the Messiah aside and rebukes him: ‘God forbid it’.
But God will not forbid this. Indeed, it is a vital step in God’s cosmic plan.
There are not many passages more appropriate to lead us into lent. After all, 2000 years ago this experience led these disciples into – perhaps through – the final stage of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It called them to listen with care and a renewed openness to the words of Jesus; it sought to link Jesus’ passion to legendary biblical giants, and; it attempted to galvanise – even with all their unresolved questions – their determination to follow Jesus to – and beyond – the cross.
Perhaps, as we hear their story again, this passage can do something similar for us.
Lent 2014 begins this Wednesday. It ushers in 40 days of intentional preparation as we approach our remembering of the events of Easter. What better way to begin this journey than to relive God’s brief, and timely, removal of the veil between heaven and earth?