A Connected History
Every year the lectionary directs us to one of the Gospel accounts of what has come to be known as the Transfiguration. This event was meant to show the disciples that the one they had come to know as Jesus – the Messiah – was indeed a prophet who was connected to and an integral part of the history of the people and God’s desire for them to be his people. Further this event emphasizes to us all that we can believe in Jesus and that it is the same God who was alive and active in the time of Moses and the time of Elijah. For us who have come to live in the time past the earthly life of Jesus, we have the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to remind us that this is the same God who met those disciples on that mountain so long ago.
In Matthew’s account, it is recorded that Moses and Elijah are seen talking with Jesus. What they were discussing is never recorded and perhaps the disciples could not hear what was being discussed. But it is said that Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light.
The transfiguration story is a pivotal event in the record of Jesus as this is the moment when the ultimate purpose and goal of Jesus’ ministry among the people begins to be revealed in earnest. It is the beginning of the journey to the cross, the grave and the resurrection.
So why are Moses and Elijah chosen to be on the mountain with Jesus? Each of these figures represents a significant turning point in the journey of the people of Israel with the One we know as God Almighty. Remember that the real historical journey of the people of Israel with God began with the calling of Abram who leaves his ancestral home to follow God. Through the blessings that God bestows on him, Abram becomes Abraham – the father of a great nation. From him are born generations that receive the same blessing of God. But up to the point of Jacob, this God is revealed only to those who compose the family of the patriarchs. As a result of Jacob’s struggle with God – the Hebrew word being Israel – the people of Jacob’s family become known as Israelites. Through the jealousy of the sons of Jacob, the youngest is sold into slavery in Egypt. That person – Joseph - becomes the salvation of his family. From that time the sons of Jacob increase in number and become very prosperous, but a change of fortune leads to the enslavement of the Israelites. In time God decides to take the people from Egypt and resettle them in a land of their own. With the help of God, Moses manages to free the people from the grip of the Egyptians and leads them through the Sinai desert on a 40-year journey designed to ensure the people will come to totally rely on God. At the end of the journey, Moses leaves them, but they will never forget their deliverance from the hand of the Pharaoh and will ever commemorate that event with the annual celebration of Passover.
By listening to God, Moses saved the Israelites from what would have been certain annihilation. This was a significant turning point in the history of the people. Through the events leading to the Passover and the subsequent journey through the wilderness, the people became a united nation whose ultimate allegiance was to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Elijah appeared at another turning point in the history of the people. For centuries the people had lived in the land that had been promised to them by God but over time they had lost that strong connection with God and had come more and more to make choices in their lives that were moving them away from God. Things came to a head with the marriage of the King of Israel to Jezebel. Jezebel worshipped gods that were foreign to the people. But her influence over the king was such that she had managed to destroy most of the temples to God and imprison or kill most of the priests. The prophet Elijah had refused to give in to Jezebel and knew that the God of their ancestors was for them the only true God to whom they owed their lives. His disobedience to Jezebel led to a price being put on his head. He fled in fear, but God found him and showed him that he was not alone. He came back to confront the priests of Jezebel’s gods. The miracle that took place when the sacrifice to God was consumed and the sacrifice to Jezebel’s gods was not was a turning point for the people of Israel. It strengthened the resolve of the people to return to follow the God of their ancestors. And while this did not ultimately save them from being exiled from their homeland, they did find the strength to continue to seek for God and indeed find that he was with them no matter where they went.
The coming of God in the person of Jesus is the third turning point in the history of the people of Israel. They had been called as a nation and led to a promised land; they had been called back to be that nation with their God; now they were being called once again to live before the might of Rome that life as the people of the God; and they were to remember that this is the same God who had never abandoned them but had constantly sought to love them and preserve them.
Jesus’ words through the Sermon on the Mount, his other times of teaching and healing are there as signs to the people that God still loved them and desired for them to take hold again of the life he had called them to live. In the end, they would also learn that God would give all for them – making Jesus the eternal Passover lamb that would not just preserve their life for a moment in time but for eternity.
And so, the Transfiguration event reminded the people of Israel that what was being revealed to them by Jesus could be trusted. Jesus becomes the ultimate prophet, priest and king to the people. Putting their trust in him and in his teaching and pledging themselves anew to God would ensure their continued life and relationship with their God. Through the gracious gift of faith and the desire of God to embrace all peoples of this world, we have the privilege of owning their history as our history. Even though we have not born as Jews, we can know that the saving acts of God throughout time and the resolve of people like Moses and Elijah to stand firm and be a light to the people can give us the resolve to follow the one who is the light for us. Let us be thankful that we can look back on those turning points and be thankful and know that God has never stopped caring for those with whom he seeks to be in relationship.
So may we remember God’s faithfulness and love and do the best we can in our time to honour God with our living both in this community and in our lives beyond these walls.