Some Christians believe we should take a Bible (Show an old Bible with loose pages. Take the Old Testament section and lay it aside. Hold up what’s left.) and cut away, in this case lift out, the whole Old Testament, because Christians have no need for it.
The problem is the writers who have given us the New Testament lived in a time when all they had was the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah, writings of several of the Hebrew prophets, and a book of prayers and hymns called the Psalms. That was the Bible Jesus knew and the Bible at the time of the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew, who intended to have first-century Jews living in Jerusalem pair the Old Testament scene in Exodus with the New Testament story that gives this Sunday its name: “The Transfiguration of Our Lord” or simply “Transfiguration Sunday.”
So, we’d better put the Bible back together (Place one section on top of the other.) in order to compare one scene with the other. In the first Moses leaves the people behind to go up the mountain where God gives him the Ten Commandments to take back down. The glow of the radiance of being in God’s company clings to him as he returns holding the two tablets of stone.
In Walter Brueggemann’s words it is “a real encounter with the real divine presence that resists all” attempts to explain it. In the second scene Jesus takes Peter and James and John to be His companions in a night of prayer. Even before they begin that climb, they are in a dark mood, especially Peter. He cannot shake himself free from Jesus’ prediction that He is on His way to suffering and death.
There, in the night’s darkness settling on the mountain, God’s presence shines like a blinding light illuminating Moses and Elijah in the company of Jesus, and casts its rays on the standoff figures, Peter, James, and John: A holy moment Peter wants to literally pin down with three tents, to hold in a permanent man-made place where people can go and be in God’s full presence, which continues into our time as a reported vision prompts building a shrine, believing the vision can be housed in that place where pilgrims may come and experience it.
Peter’s building plan is rejected with an overshadowing cloud concealing the Voice that is heard saying,
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
The Law which Moses brought down, chiseled on tablets of stone, and the words from God spoken through the prophets, are all embodied in Jesus.
There, on Sonrise Mountain (S-O-N) all God’s glory is housed in Him, so, “Listen to Him!”
And when they looked up,
they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
Unlike Moses Jesus descends from His Sonrise Mountain shedding the blinding light, in which He was clothed and of which Peter later testified we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty to accompany His disciples and all who follow to this day, into a time , when the light-filled Sundays of Epiphany, reaching the blinding brilliance of the Transfiguration, yield to the darkness that will not be shattered until Easter morning.
A time we call the Season of Lent, the time between Transfiguration and Resurrection; the time to walk with Jesus into the valley, darkened with plots to shatter God’s Law and elevate some to the position of god, while reducing others to being less than human; the valley darkened with frail figures in a refugee camp or shivering in the bone-chilling cold because the shelter is less safe than the street, someone whose illness or joblessness is trapping them in hopelessness.
Lent, the time when the scene in Matthew’s Transfiguration story takes a strange twist as God defers to Jesus:
“Listen to Him!” working His way in His last days in the dark valley - teaching, healing, loving even the unlovable, and befriending those who are shunned because of their sins or others’ false judgment of them.
“Listen to Him!” and let His words and actions become a Lenten discipline to take up and join Jesus in ministering to those we meet in the valley of their darkness.”
This past week I read a story from World War II and the last days in the Nazis death camp at Auschwitz. The prisoners had no food, no water, no clotting, only rags. Their dark fate was to die from dysentery, with no water to wash their bodies in their Hebrew burial tradition. One woman took the water lying in puddles of mud, boiled it and washed the bodies of the dying, giving them in death the dignity that had been taken from them in life. Her ministry in the darkest valley of Auschwitz, to which a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth led His fishermen disciples from Capernaum
to copy Him in doing, as He left His robe of glory on Sonrise Mountain to descend into the darkest valley of humanity, to touch and dignify every human soul with His life, at the cost of taking on the deepest darkness of the cross, which will be washed in the light of the Easter morning when God’s splendor shining through Jesus on Sonrise Mountain will descent to earth to give new meaning to the Voice:
“Listen to Him!” Listen and follow!
On Wednesday we take up the Lenten walk that spans the time between Transfiguration and Resurrection, the between-time to work as Jesus’ disciples in ministry to others’ in their dark valley, and to us in our own.
A young woman followed her dream to have a bakery which meant she had to work day and night to become financially solvent. One evening, she was so exhausted, she wandered off. She had no inclination to enter a church building, but found herself being drawn to Vassar College’s chapel to kneel before the altar and a stained glass window through which the sun was shining, bathing her in light, and suddenly she felt strength beyond herself. (Guideposts, Mar. 2014)
Bathed in the Transfiguration light of Jesus shining on Sonrise Mountain, we take up the Lenten walk into the dark valley to join Him in ministering to others, but first, we let Him minister to us. AMEN.