A reflection on Luke 9:28-36 for Transfiguration Sunday, February 27, 2022.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 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.
Luke 9:28-36 (NRSVA)
Each year the account of the transfiguration is read leading out of the Epiphany season. Perhaps it is, at least prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the pinnacle of revelation.
Clearly there are echoes of the Moses story the lectionary invites us to consider alongside this. There too a ‘face changed’. Intriguingly, the radiance of Jesus’ clothing may point us to a whole body experience for Jesus. Not just the face – but the entire form of Jesus seems to radiate.
The visitation of Moses and Elijah, perhaps for the purpose of encouragement as Jesus closes in on the cross, points at the very least to the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. Many have argued that these two Jewish legends represent the pinnacle of these two revelations.
It may help to remind ourselves where we are in the unfolding narrative of Luke. The disciples – including the three with Jesus on this occasion – have declared their Rabbi to be the Christ. Almost immediately, Jesus silences them and begins to speak of his coming death and resurrection. Understandably they are confused.
After all, Christs rule and conquer. They are not ones who are conquered. It all amounts to a sort of bafflement.
So here we have, perhaps, a necessary unveiling. The encounter is told as a message for these three. Nothing is said about the content of the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – except that it was about ‘his departure’. Peter acknowledges that being here is ‘good’ and then makes the absurd offer to build tents.
And only then comes that cloud-emanating voice: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’
This is obviously not a message for Jesus. Moses and Elijah are gone. The call to ‘listen to him’ can only be addressed to one group: Peter, John, and James.
In the midst of the disciple’s bafflement, doubt and confusion there is only one instruction: keep listening.
No doubt God could have spoken more clearly about the events about to unfold. The booming voice could have explained all the ins and outs of Jesus’ coming suffering, death and resurrection. This is not, however, where this account goes.
Rather, we have a memorable call to stop, hear, and watch. A call to patient, trusting faith.
After all, the idea that the heart of the universe is as humble as this just might be impossible to explain or understand. It is so surprising, so unexpected, so left-field – that it may be that we can only comprehend as we put aside our preconceptions and take the posture of a meek and patient learner.
When God baffles you, are you prone to listen all the more? What pulls you in this direction? What draws you away from this?
What connection might this call to patient listening say about patient prayer and meditation?