The Transfiguration of our Lord

by Bear Wade

THE VISION OF THE SON
Matthew 17:1-9
(The Transfiguration of our Lord)
(Last Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by Karen Hansel


1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then 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.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, my Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As 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.”


DIAGNOSIS: Illusions of Glory

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Bathing (in glory)
On the pre-Easter mountain top, the disciples bathe in the light of the divine glory, and yet remain in the dark concerning the identity and mission of Jesus. For them, the glory is all they can see and its allure is captivating. They are not alone. We also try to escape from the ugliness of world and from the continual humiliation our daily responsibilities force upon us. Basically we just want to sit down and enjoy a perpetual vacation, sunbathing on the mountain, comfortably enjoying the light of the glory. Even in the church, the theology of glory seems more appealing, more captivating, than the theology of the cross.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Blinded
Peter, in his theology-of-glory-vision, has trouble distinguishing Jesus’ preaching from that of Elijah and Moses. He does not yet recognize that with Jesus, something radically new is taking place between God and humanity. He wants to make nice tents for everyone who seems glorious, not appreciating that the glory of God, as preached by Moses and Elijah’s legal-covenant, would, with its intense demands, rightfully kill him and anyone else whom it exposes. We also, who are blinded by the multitude of demands and confused by the persuasive voices which surround us, misconceive God’s glory as a beautiful image we someday might attain. This image of glory is of our own making, however. It is shallow and self-serving; and ultimately, offers little help, nor hope, for real glory.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Burned
How frightening it is when the illusions we nurse are torn away, and God’s glory descends upon us with crushing power! God’s glory has no shimmering beauty for people who live by the Law and worship prescriptions for “success,” religious or otherwise. This glory is a consuming fire. For those who live by their ability to perform for him, God is finally an inferno of demanding wrath. The disciples cower down on their knees, because the Boss of glory has visited, and he has found out they’re way behind in their covenantal obligations, and the glory of God will ultimately burn (consume) them.

PROGNOSIS: Bold Visions of Glory

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Brightened
What they need — what we need — is someone to stand between us and the Boss. So, how about the Boss-Man, the Son of Man, the Beloved? When we are weighed down by the infernal glory of God and struggling under God’s legal-covenantal demands, someone touches us lovingly and says “Get up and do not be afraid.” This is the Lord, who has placed himself in the line of fire for us. He is willing to be burned in order to be our shield. And his merciful touch wins out over the consuming hand of fire. Still, that was his vision that he had to bring all along — as the voice echoes the words at his baptism, as his path from baptism to glory is meant to bring us all along.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Listening
Listen to Jesus! To listen to him is to have faith, and having faith transforms us with freedom in the midst of consuming glories. God has entered a world full of competing claims and voices, and has given us the voice of One we can trust. In our dying and rising with him, the Law has lost its power to kill us. We need not listen to new-sounding versions of the deadly old prescription. Trusting Jesus’ vision, we no longer seek glorious works or visions. We live fearlessly in Jesus’ vision now and always — the glory in the cross which only faith can grasp.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Visioning
Now we are free to come down off the mountain and do his work. Dying to ourselves and rising with Christ, we need no longer fear losing our glory through servanthood. For we also have a vision that is now clear and uncluttered. We become instruments of Jesus’ life-giving voice and touch. Trusting that no glorious law can impede us, and no doubt getting crucified in the process, we nonetheless embody Jesus’ freedom in the world. We walk with the unglorified, fellow strugglers, telling them the name and the story of the Lord who loves them beyond all hope. Where we go in faith and love, his radiant Lordship over all becomes reality today. What a vision! What a Lord!

Author

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In the early 1970s two seminary professors listened to the plea of some lay Christians. “Can you help us live out our faith in the world of daily work?” they asked. “Can you help us connect Sunday worship with our lives the other six days of the week?”  That is how Crossings was born.

 

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