Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. —Zechariah
As we read the Transfiguration from Luke we note some details that may be important and unique to Luke:
Jesus has gone up the mountain for a purpose: To pray and it is while at prayer that he is transfigured. It is in prayer, where the hearts of God and people are united, that Jesus is transfigured. He joins the prayer of all who cry out for redemption and when he does, he is revealed as the one who will fulfill the promise to Abraham. He enters prayer to become its fulfillment.
The disciples where weighed down by sleepiness but they had remained awake. Maybe we have the description of a trance like state here, the kind that grasps Abraham in Genesis 15 when the firepot passes between the animals of the sacrifice to seal the covenant. Clearly, the Lord is present in this trance.
Abraham is a nice person and the “Father of Faith.” Moses and Elijah are severe characters in the Old Testament: A strong leader and a enigmatic prophet. Peculiar to Luke, Moses and Elijah appear “in Glory,” and Luke discloses to us some of the content of the conversation they are having with Jesus: They are discussing his ἔξοδος, his “exodus.” They appear “in Glory” to indicate that their work was pleasing to the Lord and vital in the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the Transfiguration, we see the fulfillment of the stories of Moses and Elijah, neither of whom have grave to known to human souls. Nevertheless, they are there with Jesus in Glory, in the state of fulfillment, temporarily sent back from their eternal reward to behold the outcome of their lives and their lives work.
The cloud came and overshadowed them and they entered the cloud. Clouds are not trivial in the Old Testament. God leads by a pillar of cloud by day. God’s presence descends unto Sinai veiled in a cloud. To enter this cloud would say to anyone who knows Exodus that the disciples entered the very presence of God. Even in the Old Testament this was rare and no one ever saw the face of God, though here, Moses and Elijah who were intentionally denied a peek at God’s face (Ex 33:19-20; 1 Kg 19:11-13), now gaze at the face of Jesus as the voice from heaven proclaims him the Son and reasserts Jesus’ authority. Their quest for a glimpse at God’s face is now complete. Maybe this is their Glory: they have finally gazed at the face of God.
On the way down the slope it is the disciples who decide that silence is the better portion of valor in this matter, it is not Jesus who tells them to be quiet until a later time. No reasons are given for this but Luke takes careful note of their thoughts here.
These are all details that are peculiar to Luke’s telling of the Transfiguration story. He is telling a very Old Testament heavy story here, but that should not surprise us as chapter 1 has already shown us that what is happening here in Luke is the redemption of Israel and the opening of the promise to Abraham to all people.
We are at the doorstep of Lent this week. What shall we do with this season to come?
At my church we just buried one of the old saints of our little congregation. Stories abound of her work with the altar guild. Somewhere there still hangs an apron worn when the brass had to be polished and it seems to have needed polishing often. Somewhere there is a ruler. Paraments and Fair Linens had to be centered not by sight and feel, but by careful measurement to make every thing square to the world and everything had to be shiny and free of blemish. Somehow, it was important that all the things of worship and decor were in as complete a state of glory as we could muster.
We start Lent with the story of the Heavenly Glory of Jesus and we will walk through Lent in the direction of Holy Week which speaks of the humility of God. From the moment that Peter, James, and John see this scene on the mountain they must have seen the humiliation of the Lord in a different light and they must have heard the arguments with the religious authorities in a different voice. Perhaps they also considered their own feelings and words towards him. If you have seen what they saw, how would you carry yourself around him from that time on?
The cloud is no longer hovering over you but the echo of the voice reminds you that you walk with the one whom the voice called: “my Son, my Chosen.” Would you endeavor to align things square to the world and polish things that might need it and even some things that are actually in good shape just in case?
Maybe Lent is our quiet walk down the mountain. For now, we hold our peace, for forty days we dare to be in God’s trance. What will we be at the end of that walk?