Reading Ramblings – February 14, 2021

Date: The Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 14, 2021

Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

Context: The season of Epiphany emphasizes the divinity of our Lord within his humanity. While fully human in every way (except for sin – original or otherwise), Jesus of Nazareth is also the Son of God, the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. This reality was evident throughout his ministry in small ways, ways that might allow another conclusion regarding his identity. But at certain key moments in his ministry his divinity was revealed and affirmed in ways that exclude alternate interpretations. His disciples were shown his glory, experiences which assisted them in confessing him as Lord. Brushing up against the divine changes a person, something the various readings highlight.

2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elijah and Elisha are two prominent prophetic characters in the Old Testament but they get little airplay in the lectionary cycle and therefore in my sermon writing. I chose this rather than the alternative text option from Exodus specifically to push me to interact with these characters. Like the disciples in the Gospel, Elisha brushes up against the divine, as Elijah becomes just the second person in the Old Testament to be transported directly from this life without experiencing death. As such the veil between the world as we normally think about it and the spiritual realm that is part of it but unseen is pulled aside briefly and dramatically. Elijah is not divine but is caught up in divine power. Like the disciples, the event leads Elisha to an exclamation that is difficult to understand fully. And through all of it, the glory of God is foremost.

Psalm 50:1-6 – This is the introduction to a psalm which describes God’s trial and judgment of his people in regards to their worship practice. These opening six verses form the introduction, emphasizing both the power and sovereignty of God. God is described as speaking, summoning, shining, calling and judging. This is not the final judgment of all creation, but rather God summons only his called people to judgment, those who bound themselves to him as his people through the Mosaic covenant. It is these descendants who must give an account before their God, a God they might have thought was far away and not very attentive. But now they discover He is so very near! The heavens and the earth are small in comparison – they are to serve as witnesses in regards to his people and his charges against them. The natural order we think somehow shades us or shelters us from the presence of God turns out rather to be watchful of us and accountable ultimately to when He demands a reckoning of us from them. God may opt to work through predictable mechanisms and we assume when we think we’ve identified those mechanisms we’ve somehow rendered them under our power. This is obviously mistaken. We are still bound in relationship to our Creator, who deserves our thanks and praise. The separation between what we consider temporal reality and spiritual reality is at best flimsy!

2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 14:1-6 – Light is a theme in the various readings this morning – the fiery light of the chariots that carry Elijah to heaven, God shining forth in the psalm, the light of Jesus’ radiantly glowing clothes, and the light Paul refers to here, the light of the revelation of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, a light that eclipses the glory that even Moses experienced in the Tent of Meeting when the glory of God would descend onto the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Moses’ face would glow after those encounters, and he covered it soas not to frighten the Israelites, just as they were frightened in Exodus 20 by hearing God speak directly from the mountaintop. Paul compares the New Covenant of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit favorably to the old covenant at Mt. Sinai. The old covenant could only bring death through the Law, but the Spirit brings life through faith in Christ. Yet the old covenant was glorious enough to make Moses’ face glow! How incredibly glorious and powerful must this new covenant be that bestows life instead of decreeing death! What a privilege to carry this good news into the world! The news is so good there’s no need to alter it or adapt it. Not everyone will see or accept it, but that is hardly the fault of the message or even the messenger. Rather, the same blindness that existed in Moses’ day and prompted him to cover his face exists today. Some people will not accept the good news of Jesus Christ. That should not slow or alter our proclamation.

Mark 9:2-9 – So many elements of this account evoke images of God’s meeting with Israel on Mt. Sinai in Exodus. The fact that it takes place on a mountain, the presence of an enveloping cloud, and of course the voice of God the Father himself speaking directly to those present. A select subset of Jesus’ disciples are invited up the mountain just as a select subset were invited up Mt. Sinai in Exodus. Moses is present in both events, and is joined by Elijah. Many speculate Moses is there as the one through whom the Law comes and symbolizing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law, while Elijah’s presence indicates Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They also speak as three men in Scripture who have very unusual ends to their lives – Moses dying and being buried by God, Elijah being taken into heaven and Jesus who will rise from the dead and bodily ascend into heaven. Both also have prophecies regarding similar figures who will come after them – a great prophet who will arise after Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) and the coming of an Elijah-figure prior to the Messiah’s arriavl (Malachie 3:23). They speak with Jesus, three men but one of them more than just a man. Only Jesus is transfigured.

This account should also be read with Mark’s resurrection account (16:1-8) in mind. Both have a white-robed figure, both involve verbal revelation about Jesus, both document fear on the part of the witnesses present, and both involve some aspect or glimpse of how things will be at the end times – Jesus in his glory here in the reading for today and Jesus victorious over death at the end of Mark. As such it is not unreasonable to see Mark’s account of the Transfiguration as a sort of mini-Easter, a sneak preview of what lies ahead, and which will only be fully understandable in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

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