A Changed Jesus
The text this week is Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a], the Transfiguration. This is the last Sunday before we enter Lent and the final journey to the Cross and the Resurrection. This text expresses powerful imagery of our Lord changed and as the word claims “transfigured”. Jesus goes up the mountain with his companions and, notably after prayer, has his face changed and his clothes made dazzlingly white. He is glorified and clearly revealed as Lord. Then even more stunningly Moses and Elijah appear. This clearly identifies Jesus with the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. Significantly they were all speaking of his departure, and what he was to do in Jerusalem (verse 31). This seems to be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ journey to Golgotha, and the resurrection. Peter does not understand this at this point, we benefit from knowing how the story proceeds.
The Dominion Line
Something interesting happens starting in verse 35; “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”. This positions God behind the cloud, much as he was when he spoke to Moses. Peter cannot see God, yet he has clearly been able to see the glorified Jesus. This is, I think, significant.
A thing I learned a long-time ago from my former Pastor is the notion of a thing called the “Dominion Line”. There is a line, above which, God has not revealed himself. This is God in his dominion. In this dominion God is the ultimate unknowable, the quintessential other. This is represented here by God behind the cloud. Peter, and us, hear him but we do not see him. God remains ultimately unknowable when above that Dominion Line.
Below that line, however, God has revealed himself. This is done through the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus the Christ. God clearly identifies Jesus here as his son. He of course admonishes us, with an exclamation point no less, to LISTEN TO HIM! God has revealed Jesus, and places him below the Dominion Line. He has also placed Jesus squarely in the prophetic tradition by having Moses and Elijah next to him. He elevates Jesus above those two by his proclamation that Jesus is his son, and by telling us to listen to him he creates the revelation we need to hear and believe to put ourselves right with our Father. The line has been drawn and Jesus is below it for all of us to experience and hear and believe and follow.
Sorry, You Cannot Live on the Mountain
Peter in verse 33 asks suggests to Jesus that he should build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay there. Peter of course as the text states “not knowing what he said”. Peter thinks that the mountain is where these glorified three belong. Perhaps he thinks he should stay there as well; the text is not clear. In any event it is clear by Jesus’ response that this is not going to be where he conducts his ministry. Jesus does not intend to stay on the mountain, his role is down in the valley (or today the streets), with his people. His fate is in the earthly awfulness that awaits him in Jerusalem, followed by the glory of the empty tomb.
If the mountain is not permanent place for Jesus here on earth, then it is certainly no place for Peter or us. Our call is to live as fully a human life as God intended us to, using Jesus as exemplar. Our call to hear and believe, and then respond is down off the mountain in the lived reality of human community.
I am not suggesting there is no power or purpose to these kind of mountaintop experiences. I have had many in my life and each one was an incredible gift from God. But when the cloud clears and the scene returns to a more normal one, as it does in this text, it is time to come down from the mountain and live life in the streets. These mountaintop experiences are, as I said a gift. They serve to remind us of who we are and whom we serve. They instill in us a sense of the Almighty and can serve to rejuvenate us for the day-to-day ministry that is to be our lives in service to each other in the name of Jesus.
Whether you have had such a mountaintop experience or not, let this text be a lesson in how God has revealed himself to us and what this means for how we are to live our lives. Listen to Jesus. Then believe and then obey.
Praise Be to God