Epiphany began with the birth of a child in Bethlehem, and Epiphany always ends with the Transfiguration of Christ. There is a reason for this. Epiphanies are moments where the nature of God is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The birth of Christ is easier to unpack, because it is “Immanuel,” or “Christ with us.” It identifies Christ with us – as one of us. Human, just as we are.

So what are we to do with the transfiguration? In the presence of the disciples, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, and his clothes begin to shine a dazzling white, so white that no bleach could ever get them so clean. What does this transformation tell us about Jesus, and more importantly, about ourselves? 

To begin with, we learn about Jesus’ identity. If we read the passages that precede the transfiguration – and we really do need to read the passages immediately preceding this one to truly understand the importance of the transfiguration for Jesus’ disciples – we see that Jesus has been healing people and casting out demons; he healed Jairus’ daughter, and cured a woman’s years-long hemorrhage; he fed a group of five thousand people, and then a group of four thousand people; he calmed a storm with just his words, and he walked on water. 

He did miracles. Great things.

So it’s no wonder, just before going up the mountain, that when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly answered, “You are the Christ.”

We have the luxury of looking at historical events, but Peter and the other disciples had to see things for themselves for the first time, and make up their minds about Jesus. Was he just another charismatic teacher, or was he truly the Christ?

When Jesus was joined by Moses – the giver of the law and the liberator of the people of Israel – and also joined by Elijah – the first of the great prophets, and one whose appearance had long been connected with the coming of the messiah – that is when his identity was confirmed to Peter, James and John. … Jesus truly was the Messiah.

This is the epiphany, the nature and mission of Christ is revealed to those three disciples in this transfiguration on the mountaintop. And it is revealed to those of us hearing the story after the fact. Jesus is the messiah, the chosen one of Israel, the salvation of all humanity. 

But what does the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah reveal to us about ourselves? We most definitely are not the messiah, so we are unlikely to be joined by Moses and Elijah and be transfigured on the top of a mountain.  

As with many of the stories we encounter in the Gospels, Peter’s responses tend to be the example that so many of us can relate to.

Peter had seen so many miracles and acts of mighty power, that he was able to very easily slip into believing that Jesus was what most people hoped for in the Messiah. He was to be a mighty warrior, a king even. One who would crush the oppressive forces of Rome and others, and liberate Israel once and for all. But, again, in a passage just before the transfiguration, when Jesus begins to talk about how the Son of Man must suffer and die and be raised again on the third day, Peter tells him off. That can’t be! This is not how it’s supposed to happen!

And Jesus says, “Get behind me satan!” You’re not thinking of the things of God, instead you’re focused on things that humanity wants. You want power and control. You want wealth and prestige. You don’t want what God wants, Peter. 

How often can we find ourselves thinking the same things? We seek power, control, wealth and prestige. And we value them more than the things of heaven, more than the things of God.

The second thing that Peter does that we might see in ourselves is that when Jesus is transfigured before them, and is standing in the dazzling light with Moses and Elijah, Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark tells us: He did not know what to say, for they were terrified (Mark 9:5-6).

Talk about a head scratcher. Why would Peter want to build something?

Because it’s practical. It’s something he knows how to do. It’s something that would allow him to feel in control of the situation, and focus his mind on something that doesn’t terrify him. It provides a certain level of comfort in a situation that is beyond any perspective he has ever encountered.

Have we ever done the same? When confronted with things that terrify us, that dig at our hearts and claw their way into those dark recesses of our mind where our little child sits huddled in a corner, have we then reverted to trying to do things ourselves? To take control of the situation in any way that we know how? Have we sought ways to regain power and control in circumstances that call for changing our viewpoint, rather than changing our situation through our own means?

The voice from heaven that says, “This is my beloved son! Hear him!” is that reminder for Peter that all of those things that Jesus said about the Son of Man needing to suffer, to die, and to be raised again are true and it is meant to reveal both the nature of Jesus, and the mission of Christ in the world. It is meant to let them all know that God will accomplish what God wants, despite our desires and preferences, and that Jesus is showing them a new perspective on the work of the Messiah in this world.

You really need to admire the beauty of how Mark put these stories together that lead up to the transfiguration. It poses all of these questions of Jesus’ identity in just a few passages; questions that people both then and now still have; questions that even Jesus’ own disciples had to begin with; it poses all these questions in a few small stories just before the nature and mission of Christ are revealed. It starts off with, Who am I? You are the christ. What am I here to do? To destroy the world with mighty power and bring about the salvation of Israel. Wrong! Get behind me satan! The messiah will suffer, die, and be raised again three days later. And if you want to follow me, you will need to lose your life – your identity – because if you give up your life for the sake of the Gospel, you will find your life and who God has truly made you to be! And then … Jesus goes off and gets transfigured, and the disciples freak out.

And here’s the beauty of what that means to us, and to all the hearers of this gospel that came before us. Those who hear it know about the transformation that took place among Peter and the other disciples – from scared fishermen, to bold, courageous fishers of men, men who changed the world preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ – and then they think: this too can happen to me.

We too will transform. That is what this passage, the entirety of this Gospel, of all the Gospels, really, the Good News of Jesus the Christ is all about – we will transform, and ever more change into the likeness of God, if we allow God to change our perspective, and see the world as God sees it – one where power, control, wealth and prestige are things to be lost, to be surrendered, for the sake of the Gospel. 

The words from the collect today, “Grant us that we … be changed into his likeness from glory to glory” come from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Coritnthians. And what Paul means by that word “glory” is that we will be transformed each time more of the identity of God is revealed to us. That is, each time we have an epiphany and experience a change in our perspective of who God is, and understand just how that perspective of God relates to our own identity, that is when we are transformed more into the likeness of Christ. That is when our lives will take the shape that God has intended for us from before the world began, and when people will see the outward manifestation of our inward change of view.

This is why the story of the transfiguration comes before Lent. Lent is about detaching ourselves from those things we love more than God. It is about changing our perspective on what we must give up for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of loving God more dearly. Because when we do give these things up, not only is the nature of God revealed to us more clearly, but we begin the journey of our own transformation from Glory to Glory.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on February 11, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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