“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 four words beginning with “A” that can help thinking about what the experience meant for the disciples and what it can mean for people now. The four words are appearance, accomplish, awake and alone.
The first word is “appearance.”
Saint Luke Chapter 9 Verses 28-29 says, “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.
How often have you been through moments like the disciples? Rocky times, barren times; times when life is dull and unexciting, when you feel that you are very far from the interesting things in life, when other people seem to be having excitement and success, while you just trudge along? The story of the transfiguration, the sudden change in the appearance of Jesus, is a reminder that God may do things when you least expect them. If people lived each day in the expectation that they might encounter God, how different would everyday lives seem? The appearance of Jesus changed, every day there should perhaps be an expectation that something unexpected will happen.
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, how often do people still fail to listen?
The Good News is that people have been given new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is something that they find difficult. Most people prefer the idea that Christianity is about their own preferences, their own ideas, their own beliefs. Instead of faith being about the death and resurrection of Jesus, it becomes about the church, and about all the disagreements, and the disputes and the divisions that go with church life. Do people 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 Christians 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 your eyes to all that is taking place, to forget all that Jesus has said to his people. But if people turn away from God’s world, they can miss what he is saying to the world. It is important for people to keep their eyes open, it is important to stay awake to hear what God may be saying.
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 the Christian faith should always be in Jesus alone. How many hymns do people sing, how many prayers do they say, that declare their faith in Jesus, yet when people look at the church, 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 that people seem to think are necessary to being a Christian, or is the faith in the Jesus who stands alone?
Appearance, accomplish, awake and alone – four words to ponder in the season of Lent that is to come..