Sunday 27 February 2022

Bible Book:

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. (v. 29)

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) Sunday 27 February 2022

Psalm 99


The Christian year is arranged around the two great festivals of the Incarnation and the Passion and Resurrection. Today is the last Sunday before Lent when we read the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration and it stands as a sort of pivot between the two; the gospel reading invites us to look back and forward (cf Singing The Faith 261 verses 2-3).

Looking back, as it were, what the disciples witnessed on the mountain (traditionally identified as Mount Tabor) is a revelation of the glory of Jesus which echoes some of the themes of Christmas and Epiphany. Luke’s account of the appearance of Jesus’ face changing and his clothes becoming dazzling white seems to indicate a reflection of God’s glory, as Moses’ face shone after his meetings with God (Exodus 34:29). The voice from heaven (v. 35) echoes the voice that was heard after Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:22), which is also in the context of Jesus praying. The Transfiguration, therefore, can be understood as a confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah (and one of the traditions about the coming of the Messiah was that Elijah would appear).

Jesus’ praying is one of the elements pointing us forward in the calendar, to the events of Holy Week and Easter. The disciples who were with Jesus praying on the mountain were also to be with him when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46, though Luke does not specifically name Peter, James and John there); on both occasions they were weighed down with sleep (but Luke stresses that they were awake on Tabor to see Jesus in glory and Moses and Elijah with him).

Luke sets the story of the Transfiguration at a key moment in the Gospel. This episode follows six days after Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering and death (Luke 9:22); shortly after he will "turn his face to Jerusalem" (9:51). What awaits him in Jerusalem is the subject of the conversation with Moses and Elijah. Luke describes that as Jesus’ ‘departure’; the Greek word used is ‘exodus’. Jesus was to die at the Passover festival and in many ways our understanding of the Cross and Resurrection is shaped by the narrative of the people of Israel leaving Egypt freed from slavery, crossing the Red Sea, and journeying to the Promised Land (all achieved, of course, under the leadership of Moses).

Some churches will use the longer reading and include the healing miracle that follows as Jesus and the disciples rejoin the crowd at the foot of the mountain. This is a puzzling story: unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not offer any explanation for why the disciples could not heal the boy and Jesus’ comments about the faithless generation (v. 41) seem harsh. Perhaps the last verse helps us understand Luke’s purpose here – the focus in both the Transfiguration and this healing narrative is on what Jesus and Jesus alone can do.

To Ponder:

  • What does ‘glory’ mean? How do we put it into words?
  • How much do you know about the Feast of Passover? One way to approach Holy Week and Easter would be to try to learn more, both from the Old Testament and about how it is celebrated by Jewish people today.
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