Reading Ramblings – March 2, 2014

Date:  The Transfiguration of Our Lord, March 2, 2014

Texts: Exodus 24:8-18; Psalm 2:6-12; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Context: Transfiguration Sunday culminates our Epiphany journey.  As we have considered the divinity of our Lord, the fullest expression of this divinity—prior to his resurrection– is Jesus’ self-revelation to his inner circle.  For a few moments or hours Peter, James and John are privileged with a glimpse of some of Jesus’ true glory and nature, combined with another explicit directive from his heavenly Father regarding his identity and their purpose in him. 

Exodus 24:8-18 — Jesus’ mountaintop revelation to his inner circle is not the first time that humanity and divinity have met on a high place.  Exodus 24 is the culmination of the Exodus narrative, the meeting of God and man on Mt. Sinai to initiate a unique communal relationship.  The meeting at Sinai changed the people present for it.  They became God’s people, and this directed their relationships not just with the divine, but with one another.  A new community was created, a community bound not just by blood and ethnicity, but by shared worship of the one true God.  Likewise, as Jesus reveals himself to his inner circle, fellowship and relationship is at the heart of this experience—between Jesus and his disciples, between Jesus and these heroes of the Old Testament, and between God the Son and God the Father.  Peter, James and John, no less than Moses and the leaders of Israel, cannot be the same after this encounter. 

Psalm 2:6-12— This is one of the royal psalms, which we assume were invoked during the coronation of a new king of Israel (united) or Judea (after the split between north and south).  The first six verses mock the conventional wisdom of other kings, kings who do not know God and therefore think that they are indeed in charge of their lives and kingdoms and subjects.  They plot against God but in vain!  Verses 6-12 contrast these other kings with the Lord’s chosen ruler, the one who is faithful to God the Father’s will, acting as a true son.  Such a divinely appointed and obedient ruler is truly one to fear!  No enemy can be safe from a ruler divinely installed and empowered, and fully obedient to God the Father!  As we see Jesus in his glory, we like his disciples are called to mind that the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is truly awe and fear-inspiring.  Obedience is not simply a choice we make, it is the only choice that we can make!

2 Peter 1:16-21 — Peter here recalls his experience on the mountaintop with Jesus directly.  Even after the passage of time, it is clear that this moment remains pivotal for Peter.  He is not making this stuff up!  He has faithfully delivered his experiences to those around him.  Further, what Peter saw and heard he links directly with the Old Testament and prophecies regarding the Messiah.  As such, he seeks to reaffirm the uniqueness of Scripture not simply as a book by and from men, but as divinely inspired.  God has orchestrated his plan of salvation from the beginning of time, so that the prophets of old were truly inspired with the truth, pointing towards events and identities not of their own creation but of the Holy Spirit’s revelation.  This we are to hold on to.

Matthew 17:1-9 — One of the fascinating aspects of Christianity is that major sites associated with specific events are not known.  In other words, unlike other religions, where location plays a major or primary role, God’s people have always distinguished between the what that took place and the where.  The what is the important thing, not so much the where.  The where could be anywhere, the what is unique and transcendent. 

As such, two of the critical moments of Biblical history—moments where humanity stands in the presence of the divine for divine self-revelation—occurred in places we can’t pinpoint with 100% accuracy.  The people of God never idolized the locations of Mt. Sinai and the Mt. of Transfiguration.  There are educated guesses and attempts at faithful tradition, but these are just that—attempts and guesses.  We can’t be certain they are correct, even if they are well-intentioned. 

It’s the what that matters.  And the what is that both on Mt. Sinai and the Mt. of Transfiguration, the relationship between God and a group of people altered.  Humanity glimpsed some of the divine, and that glimpse altered those witnesses forever.  They became different people, quite literally, as they entered into a unique and special relationship with the divine.  They were knit into a special and unique community with one another as well.  And in both cases, the divine invited the human to participate in the divine work of restoring creation to perfection as messengers of good news, light in the darkness, salt in the blandness of a broken world. 

Each event was unique.  It wasn’t that God invited every possible person to come up and meet him in this unique way.  Jesus wasn’t even sharing the self-revelation with all twelve of his disciples.  But the few that were present served as emissaries and witnesses for the rest of their lives.  What was important was that the message was taken from the place of the experience.  Those who participated in it and experienced it did not—could not—simply remain in that place, basking in the holy auras or some other such description.  They had received a glimpse of the divine so that they could share it with others, so that others could be transformed as well. 

We don’t sit around waiting for divine encounters such as what happened on Mt. Sinai or the Mt. of Transfiguration.  These events are not true because we ourselves personally experienced them, but because we have received and believed the testimony of generations of believers dating back to the ones who actually were there.  We do not believe for no reason, but for reasons that have endured for thousands of years, because the eye-witness accounts that were given after the events were deemed faithful and truthful and accurate.  Faith may be the essence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1), but nowhere does God call us to faithfulness in him without reason. 

As St. Peter asserts, God has revealed himself to us not just in creation, not just in special encounters on mountaintops, but in the faithful Word—both the Word we hold in our hands, and more importantly the Word made flesh, to whom the Bible points.  We receive this Word knowing that it is consistent with itself as well as our experience of creation.  We receive it joyfully, for it reveals not only the nature of God, but our hope and salvation as well.

 

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