The Glory of the Lord
Peter, James, and John are supposed to make the connections between what is happening right before them and the story of Moses on Mt. Sinai. Here they are, on a mountain, experiencing the revelation of God. Just as at Mt. Sinai, God’s voice is heard from a cloud into which they have entered. And, like Moses, Jesus’ experiences the glory of the Lord in a way that visibly changes him. When Moses had gone up Mt. Sinai and entered the cloud of God’s presence, he was transfigured. When he emerged, his face shone. There, on the mountain, as he prayed, Jesus was transfigured. His face and his clothes were like looking into the dazzling white light of the sun.
Suddenly, Jesus wasn’t alone. Moses and Elijah, “the two biblical characters in whose likeness the long-awaited prophet of the end-time was expected to come” (Ringe), were there with him, talking to him about his departure.
The word they used was exodos, the same word that described the departure of the people of God from Egypt. Moses had led the people out of bondage in Egypt, on a journey that would (after 40 years in the wilderness) bring them to the Promised Land. Now Jesus is at the beginning point of a long journey, a journey to Jerusalem, to crucifixion and to resurrection, a journey which will bring us out of the bondage of sin and into the Kingdom of God.
Peter, James, and John were asleep as Jesus was praying and began talking with Moses and Elijah. So, when they wake up and see Jesus’ shining face and Moses and Elijah, they gets the connections, and they comes to the conclusion that Jesus has arrived in glory. They don’t realize that the journey is just starting, that before the triumph there will be trial.
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright observes that “The disciples were overwhelmed by the transfiguration, and blurted out things they didn’t mean…They were unable to understand how it was that the glory which they had glimpsed on the mountain, the glory of God’s chosen son, the Servant who was carrying in himself the promise of redemption, would finally be unveiled on a very different hill, an ugly little hill outside Jerusalem.” And he points out that “We, too, often find it completely bewildering to know how to understand all that God is doing and saying,…”
And yet, as I read the passage, I realized that we aren’t expected to. When Peter blurts out “Let’s immortalize this moment! We can build you each a tent to dwell in so that you are located and accessible. People can come here to find you.” Caught up in the moment of this mountaintop experience, Peter wants to hold onto it. He wants to live basking in the glory of the Lord. He wants others to come to this place and experience it too. But the experience of the glory of the Lord is a transitory one. Time keeps going, and the brilliance of the moment fades, no matter how hard we try. Nothing – no picture, no description, no painting, no memory – can accurately capture it.
So, in response to Peter’s spontaneous, almost reflex reaction, to this moment, a moment so perfect he just wants to capture it. God says “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” “Listen to him.”
This is how you capture it. This is how you share the experience of the glory of the Lord with others. Listen to him. Listen to him, and you will begin to shine, too. We don’t all of a sudden gleam, and we don’t gleam all the time. It is a process; it is a journey. Martin Luther said, “This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.”
Moses’ face was so radiant from being in the glory of the Lord that when he came back down the mountain, the people couldn’t bear to look at him. Jesus was so radiant from being in the glory of the Lord that Peter, James, and John were awestruck. They didn’t know what to do – they just wanted to hold onto this moment. But God said, “Don’t just look at him. Listen to him.”
When we come to this table, we are in the presence of the Lord. Jesus invites us and says, “Remember me and let me shine in you. Let me fill you with my grace. Let me fill you with my love. Not just so that you are full, but so that you are overflowing.” We don’t come to this table to capture a moment, but to experience the transformative power of being in the glory of the Lord and to leave this table praying that Jesus would shine in us. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.