This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday occurs in the lectionary the Sunday before Lent and is strategically placed there as a preparation for the Lenten observance. The story of the transfiguration is found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; and Luke 9:28-36) and alluded to in the Gospel of John (12:28-30). In this story, Jesus is goes with Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain and there something incredible happen, Jesus transfigures before them, changing from his everyday outfit to glorious white and a glistening air around him. This was not all that happened, at the moment of this change, the figures of Moses and Elijah came, later followed by the voice of God.
What is evident in the story is the fact that the disciples really have no clue what was going on. As the events were taking place, all three gospels express how the disciples were afraid. The use of the word “afraid” is very important because it points to the state of the relationship between the disciples and Jesus. While they were very much devoted to Christ, their understanding of him as a human person clouded them from seeing His full divinity. So when they saw him in celestial garb, they could not really process what was happening. In fact, as the gospel moves on, this becomes one of many instances where Christ’s divinity is revealed only to be misunderstood.
Another interesting aspect of the transfiguration is the transfiguration itself. Debate has gone on since the earliest scholars about what actually is happening on the mountain. The analogy that is often used is that of a butterfly. We know the caterpillar is the larva form of the butterfly. While looking completely different from the butterfly, within its structure is everything (well, except nutrition) it needs in order to become a butterfly. At a certain point the caterpillar knows it is time for a change, forms a chrysalis and emerges a beautiful butterfly! Here the analogy is that Jesus is always Christ, but at the transfiguration, the reader for the fist time sees him as more than a wise prophet and really the anointed Son of God.
The timing, and who Christ brought with, was very important, because he was at a point in his ministry where he needed to help those around him understand that he was more then a teacher or a prophet. This was evident at the end when he said to them not to tell anyone of the event until he rose from the dead. Something that provocative is not easily kept, and the passage alludes to their questioning of that point.
Which brings us to the last aspect of the story that I find interesting, which is the parallel to the story of the resurrection. This is why the passage is located where it is in the lectionary, just before Lent, because helps to bookend Lent with images of the resurrection. This is a way of giving perspective for Lent, placing the pensive time with the reminder of something bigger.
As you can see, this passage really highlights different parts of who Christ is as a person. Along with wearing something butterfly-related, think this week of who Christ is for you. What would you do if you saw this? And why the resurrection is so important.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen