Today Revd Jan explores the importance of the presence of those witnesses to Jesus’s transfiguration on the mountain.
TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD Year A – Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9
Eye witnesses are really important for knowing what happened. Jesus takes three men up the mountain and they witness, they experience for themselves, the effects of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. It is an extraordinary event that defies human language, human experience – hence Peter’s babbling, and the fear and awe of the three as they fall to the ground.
Moses takes Joshua with him to the mountain; and the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire …. in the sight of the people of Israel.
These different accounts of encounter with the glory of God were witnessed, there were people there. They happened. However, like all of life, including the Word of God itself, the meaning and interpretation of these events can be as different as there are different people. What one person sees, what one person experiences, will be different to another because – they are another.
It can be as simple as Graham and I watching golden retriever Polly disappear down the driveway to see another dog. “Isn’t that lovely,” I say, “she’s off to play”. Meanwhile Graham is anxious and cross because he knows that Polly (1) annoys that particular dog and owner; and (2) there is a very strong probability that Polly won’t come back when she’s called because obedience does not dominate the will to play and have fun. Different lens, different experiences, different way of witnessing.
It can be as complex and life-changing as the extraordinarily tragic event of a family burning to death in a car this week, caused by a husband and father. To witness that is beyond our comprehension of coping. But the witnesses were not only those on that day, in that place. This city, this country, and beyond have also brought it into the conscious witnessing of domestic violence, and the deep reaction and reflection that is now taking place. I believe Brisbane will never be the same.
That narrative of witness is tied up with many factors of revelation through experience and accumulative context. In the same way Moses is handed the law, the commandments as part of God’s covenant. God affirms Moses as leader, as being on the right track with God. Jesus, in the event of the Transfiguration, brings together the law and the prophets, Elijah and Moses, and is affirmed by his Father God as superseding now the old covenant. “This is my Son….. listen to him.”
Both these events are significant for that accumulative witness context, for the complexity of the God story in its impact in creation and for the life-changing person that is Jesus Christ.
You know, in this week when we can barely talk about the horrific act of three young children and their mother dying awful, violent and senseless deaths at the hands of their father and husband, it recalls to me the ongoing accusation of many that God killed his son. I don’t say this to demean either event. I actually say it to expose choice and decision making.
Domestic violence is about control and power. The violence is caused by the person who wants to control the lives of others – and it can take many forms, mental, emotional and physical. It is insidious, it is the extreme of non-respect and inequality. It is about manipulation, it is about focussing totally on causing harm to the person or persons threatening your control. It is disguised cleverly – the perpetuator can talk of love, while planning the ultimate payback. If I can’t have it my way, no one will get their way. And so a decision to kill his own children to ensure their mother did not have them. Choice. Decisions.
The shockingness of it could be similar if we believe God led his son to his death, and let him die. But it is not the story we know, the story we belong to. Choice. Decisions. The Transfiguration event is significant because of the choices Jesus faced, the decisions he made.
Choices – he could have stayed up on the mountain, let Peter build three memorials. Many of us build memorials to a life we remember and yearn for, and we don’t move away from that memory. The church itself can live like that…. “I remember when
the Sunday school had hundreds of children – what’s gone wrong?” Jesus could have rested on his laurels, he had done lots of healing, teaching, people loved him, thought he was the greatest prophet ever. That could have been his epitaph….
He chose to come down the mountain. And then he chose to face Jerusalem, to go to where certain death and derision waited for him. He could have turned left, not right, basically. He chose his direction, to go to the city where the church leaders and those in control – and who wanted to maintain control – were waiting.
He wasn’t choosing violence, or victimhood, or even martyrdom. He was simply choosing to obey his Father God. Jesus chose to bring to completion the design of God (of whom Jesus is also) to fulfil the prophecy of the people of the Messiah bringing the kingdom of God into the present time. To do this, the suffering Christ (and remember, as soon as God became human the suffering began) chose to bring the suffering of the whole humanity to a single moment of fruition in his death, and his resurrection. Because they are the one – death and resurrection – in him, they are now one in us. Death does not end the story; death has no control over our lives, as followers of Jesus Christ.
So the decision to come down the mountain and take the road to Jerusalem was to choose life, life in its fullness. In the significant symbolism of the Transfiguration, placed on the eve of Lent, we are also drawn into that journey to choose life with Jesus, the whole way. The season of Lent is thus a time to choose to travel with Christ from the mountain to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the foot of the cross. The choice is there; the decision has to be ours.
The church itself was formed on that decision. When Jesus turned to Jerusalem that fateful first Easter, he also made that decision for all those who follow him. Christians are called to embrace suffering, not run from it. Christians are called to bear each other’s burdens, to see and know ourselves as community, the Body of Christ. Jesus walked the track first, and, while he does not promise or guarantee protection or more luck (as many think the reason people become Christians) he does promise the good promise. I am with you; you can do this with me.
My decision to talk about the horror of this week with you is based on that promise that Jesus Christ will bring solace, hope and presence to not only this awfulness, but the many awfulnesses of this world. We cannot put our heads in the sand – this is all of our backyards, not someone else’s. I can hold my gorgeous grandsons in my arms and pray and pray for them for a safe life, a life of love and stability. But I should only do so if I am praying that for all children, all families. I should only do so if I am prepared to notice the signs of domestic violence, and take responsibility to be equipped to do something. I should only do so if I am advocating for the church I belong to, to become involved with real life issues, in the communities and families we belong to.
Choices. Decisions. Above all, to ensure these are based on prayer, our living dialogue with our God. May this Lent be a time for us all to engage most intentionally with the teachings and presence of Jesus Christ through prayer, the studying of the scriptures with our Christian community and regular worship as the Body of Christ. May we choose to journey the road to the cross with him, knowing that in our decision comes the liberation of life in its fullness.
Let us pray.
Christ of the empty cross, be with us as we pray for the awful things of life.
Help us to pray.
We uphold to you the tragedy of children and women killed or maimed by domestic violence.
We uphold to you all those affected by such violence, and for those this week who will now relive their own experiences.
Help us to pray.
Bring peace; bring respect in all relationships; bring professional help to those struggling with themselves before violence erupts.
Above all, bring you, Jesus Christ, into lives that need you.
Help us to pray.
Give us courage to enter Lent on journey with you, all the way to the cross.
Above all, thank you. Thank you for your gift of life on that cross.