As we end the season of Epiphany, the season of Christ’s revelation to the world, which began with the Magi and now ends with the transfiguration of Christ, we are with startling reality forced to move away from the idyllic manger and get on about Christ’s work.
Peter, six days prior to this event had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, but as we can see from this story Peter is even reticent to move on from this romanticized concept of Jesus.
As Jesus and Peter and James and John are up on the mountain, we are told that Jesus is transfigured before their very eyes. His face shone like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah.
Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here, if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Who can blame Peter?
Here he is in the midst of the old tradition and the new, between the giver of the law and the fulfillment of the law. And, who would blame him for thinking that these two could peacefully coexist. Who could blame him for not wanting to stop time and bask in the illusion or delusion that all is well.
When, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud spoke, and we can assume it wasn’t a gentle soothing voice because they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
And the voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
From that point on Jesus’ ministry would get more radical, it would become more anti-establishment, it would be markedly more confrontational until it would lead him to the cross and death.
Those who would see to it that this journey would end at Golgatha were the religious leaders, those who were stuck in the law.
You see I don’t believe that Moses and Elijah and Jesus all came together at the top of the mountain to show the unity of God’s kingdom. I think that perhaps Moses and Jesus were together to show the contrast between the two of them and Elijah is the bridge from one to the other, especially when John the Baptist is revealed as Elijah (Mt 17:10).
We continue this stuggle to this day and while, like Peter, we may want to have one big happy family so long as the law and fulfillment of Christ’s teachings are at tension there will be no peace.
Now I’ve heard all the arguments about the good old days and the rich traditions that have been cast aside. And, my response is that unless you have been on the side of the law, unless you have been the ones in favor then the good ole days never existed. History is full of Jim Crow laws, anti sufferage laws, and anti-gay laws.
The very concept, from the founding of this countryn supposed Judeo-Christian principals, that all a person had to do to find success was to work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps is now and always has been a myth. And, as the disparity grows in our society today with regards to the accumulation of wealth it becomes only a greater myth.
Traditions also can take on the mantle of law. Why, we have always done it this way. It was said about blacks only being allowed in the balcony of the church. It was said about the fact that only men serve as clergy.
Traditions, it seems, come about first of all anytime we do something more than once and second of all when we want to use it as a reason to exclude doing something any other way but the way we are used to doing it. Traditions are beautiful but given the weight of law they will bring about the total irrelevance of the church.
Jesus makes the statement I came not to replace the law but to fulfill it. I find it unfortunate that there are still those about us who, to the exclusion and detriment of others, continue to believe the law is an acceptable alternative to love and acceptance.
The transfigured Christ knew now where the road would lead him so he would use his remaining time to talk about, one lost sheep, forgiveness seven times seventy times, little children, the rich young man, laborers in the vineyard the healing of the blind men, and then the last straw, the cleansing of the temple. There are no teachings here about rank and privilege or even the right to discriminate.
Transfigured Christians are to become in the words of CS Lewis, “Little Christs.” But oh, the lure of the law sings so loudly and tempting to us. If only we could legislate the good old days back into existence. If only we could rekindle discrimination in the name of religious freedom. If only we could use the law to once again show “certain people” the distain they arouse in our souls.
Don’t think I’m off on some wild tangent because just this past week the state of Arizona attempted to do that very thing. In the name of religious freedom they passed a law, which had it not been vetoed by the Governor, would have legalized exclusion and division all in the name of God.
I, for one, find that not only an abuse of the rule of law I find it exceedingly offensive as a follower of Jesus Christ that they would use that argument to promote prejudice and division. I find it appalling, that as opposed to our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human being,” that these people in the name of Jesus Christ would even remotely believe it is acceptable to marginalize or even dismiss the dignity of any human being.
Maybe they, like Peter, need to be reminded, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” And, if you do, you will not hear the words discrimination, or division, or exclusion.
Someone tried to highjack our faith this week and take it into hostile territory. Territory that many have spent years and sacrifice and, in some cases, even death to get us beyond that past of the law into the fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ.
While we have made great strides let us not be so naïve as to think the battle is over. And, let us not for a moment let down our guard or our armor for as long as one child is hungry, or as long as one woman isdenied equal pay or opportunity, for as long as one of our gay or lesbian brothers or sisters are made to feel less a creation of God than others, then while we may feel transfigured in our own faith, the world is not transfigured.
And so, we continue on about our work, perhaps a little wiser, perhaps a little more world worn, but always with the echo of the words of Jesus to his disciples as they fell to the ground, overcome by fear, “Get up and do not be afraid.”