“Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Luke 9:35
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus gives us four words beginning with “A” that can help our thinking about what the experience meant for the disciples and what it can mean for us. The four words are appearance, accomplish, awake and alone.
Looking at the word “appearance,” Saint Luke Chapter 9 Verses 28-29 tell us, “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.” It must have been an extraordinary moment. After the long climb over rough ground, after looking around and seeing nothing but a rocky and barren place, after feeling they were far from anywhere in the most inhospitable place they could have imagined, everything is suddenly changed. The remote and empty place becomes a special place.
Have we been through moments like the disciples? Rocky times, barren times; times when life is dull and unexciting, when we feel that we are very far from the interesting things in life, when other people seem to be having excitement and success, while we just trudge along? The story of the transfiguration, the sudden change in the appearance of Jesus, is a reminder to us that God may do things when we least expect them. If we lived each day in the expectation that we might encounter God, how different would our lives seem? The appearance of Jesus changed, every day we should perhaps expect the unexpected.
The second word is “accomplish.” The story continues in Verses 30-31, “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.” Jesus, Moses and Elijah are speaking of what Jesus will “accomplish” in Jerusalem. The disciple from whom Saint Luke hears the story realizes the significance of the conversation, but not until after the resurrection of Jesus. At the time, they have heard but not listened, they have not accepted what it is Jesus will accomplish. If they had listened, then their behaviour would have been very different in the garden of Gethsemane on the night when Jesus was arrested.
Moses, Elijah and Jesus spoke of what Jesus would accomplish, but like Peter, James and John, we often still fail to listen. The Good News is that we have new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but we find the idea difficult; we prefer the idea that Christianity is about our own preferences, our own ideas, our own beliefs. Instead of faith being about the death and resurrection of Jesus, it becomes about the church, and all the disagreements, disputes and divisions that go with church life. Do we too often behave as though Jesus did not accomplish all that was necessary?
The third word is “awake”. Verse 32 says, “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.” It has been a hard walk, they are probably hungry and thirsty, they want to rest, just to close their eyes and to escape the weariness for a while. It took an effort to keep their eyes open; they must have pondered afterward what a moment they would have missed if they had slept. Peter wants to hold on to this moment, to build shelters for Jesus and his companions; a reaction that was unrealistic but shows his desire not to let the moment pass. Then they see the extraordinary sight and become terrified as a cloud covers them. Verse 35 says, “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!'” They see and hear because they have stayed awake.
Trying to be a Christian is wearisome at times, particularly when most of the world does not want to hear what we have to say. It is easy to feel weighed down, there is no encouragement from the world and very little from the church, it is easy just to close our eyes to all that is taking place, to forget all that Jesus has said to us. But if we turn away from God’s world, we can miss what he is saying to the world. We should keep our eyes open we should stay awake to hear what God may say to us.
The final word is “alone.” Saint Luke writes in Verse 36, “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.” Jesus was standing there alone and the disciples realize that the experience is not about Moses and Elijah, it is not about what they have seen or heard, it is not about whether they have been dazzled or terrified, it is about this man Jesus. He stands alone, a foreshadowing of the way he will stand alone in Jerusalem. On that Friday, when Jesus stood alone before the powers of this world, did Peter James and John think back on those moments on that mountainside?
“Jesus was found alone”, and our faith should always be in Jesus alone. How many hymns do we sing, how many prayers do we say, that declare our faith in Jesus, yet when people look at us, do they see people whose faith is in Jesus, or do they see people whose beliefs are about their church, their community, their tradition? Does Jesus disappear behind all the other things we seem to think are necessary to being a Christian, or is our faith in the Jesus who stands alone?
Appearance, accomplish, awake and alone – four words to ponder in the coming week.