By Paul Koch –
Today in the church year we turn our attention to the transfiguration of our Lord, to that moment on the mountaintop when Jesus’ appearance was altered and his face and clothes became gleaming white, as white as a lightning flash. But before we get into it, I think it is reasonable to ponder the basic premise of why this ancient story even matters to us. Why do we take time every year right before Ash Wednesday to focus on our Lord’s transfiguration? In other words, why should you care? For you, who gather here each Sunday, does this moment of brilliant light before Peter, James, and John provide something crucial to your life? Is this a necessary thing for the living of the Christian life? Does it make it better, easier, or more potent? Sometimes I wonder if we gather together and read the Word of God without being really sure of the point of it all. It’s just what we do. It’s how the whole rhythm of church works. So, we keep on doing it.
But there is a reason for turning our eyes towards this mountaintop moment. In fact, there are ramifications for us all in remembering what happened up there. This is much more than simply going through the motions; this text speaks something living and powerful into your life. There is something crucial here for any of you who face struggles in your life, any of you who have doubt and fears. Do you know what it is to struggle with unanswered prayers? Have been at the bedside of one you loved unable to help, unable to change the situation as you watch them deteriorate over time? Have you been angry with your God for not doing something, anything that might ease the burden? Have you ever been so hurt by the church that you’ve stood on the edge thinking that you might as well just walk away from it all? If so, then you don’t want to miss what happened on that mountaintop.
Now, most of you know the story. You know how Jesus takes Peter, James, and John (his sort of inner group of disciples) and heads up on a high mountain. There he is transfigured before them; the glory of his divine nature seems for a moment to spill out, and they have a front row seat for what happens next. Suddenly, two men appear with Jesus, and not just any two men; it’s Moses and Elijah, and they are talking with him. Now a detail that we are given here in Luke’s telling of this moment ought to be of special interest to you. See, they aren’t talking about just anything—the weather or the cost of gallon of gas—no, it says that they are speaking with him about his departure. The Greek word there translated “departure” is the word ἔξοδον which we might otherwise translate as exodus. Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his exodus.
Now to say that Moses knows a thing or two about an exodus is a gross understatement. This is the man who was at the forefront of the great exodus of God’s people, the one that was sent to Pharaoh declaring, “Let my people go!” This exodus from the house of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground and off to the promised land is a story of God’s constant care and protection for his people. That story begins when God hears the cry of his people and he remembers his covenant with them and so sets in motion their deliverance. The exodus was the focal point for God’s people; it is what they centered their faith upon. They were a people who went forward in their life by looking backwards. That is, they could face what was uncertain, what was difficult, what was marked by suffering and tears with a bold confidence because they could look back and remember what God had done. They could remember his mighty arm of deliverance, his protection through the wilderness wanderings. They could remember how they finally entered into the land flowing with milk and honey. By looking back to what God had done through their great exodus, they could then go forward in sure faith of his promises.
But Moses isn’t the only one with a great exodus story to share. There is Elijah the great prophet of God. Elijah, who stood unmoved against the false prophets of Baal. Elijah, who had to flee for his life from the wicked Queen Jezebel and collapsed in the wilderness crying out, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And yet God did not abandon his prophet in his exodus. Rather, he feeds him, and by that food he is strengthened to journey 40 days and 40 nights through the wilderness to the mountain of God. Elijah’s exodus would reach a climax at his departure, not in death but as he is carried into heaven by chariots of fire.
Moses and Elijah, two men who spoke with God on mountaintops. Moses and Elijah, who knew the power and might of God’s plans of exodus. Moses and Elijah, whose voices direct the hearts and minds of the children of God to his gift of salvation. In Deuteronomy 18 Moses says to the people of God, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” And the prophet Malachi, in the last book of the Old Testament, says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” Moses and Elijah, who reminded God’s people of his deliverance and promises, appear on the mountaintop one more time to talk with Jesus about his exodus. Everything we look back at is leading to this moment.
Jesus has an exodus of his own to go through, an exodus only he can go through. It is an exodus that will lead through the wilderness. Not just his temptation there by Satan but through a life marked by struggle and suffering. He will journey forward bearing the sins of the world. He will bear your sins, every one of them. Every time you failed to live as a child of God ought to live, every time you failed to help a brother or sister, every time you intentionally hurt those you ought to love. Every time you uttered those words of gossip, every time you caught up in lust or envy or hatred. He took that as his own and made his exodus to the place of the skull, to the mount of Calvary. His exodus would involve his tears for his brothers and sisters, his agony for those who would not receive his blessing and promises.
But his journey does not end in the grave. His exodus keeps on going. It goes through the cross and tomb and on to eternal life. He who took with him all your sin and shame has then given you all his glory and righteousness. He clothes you with holiness and calls you his brothers and sisters. When we look back on this day to the transfiguration of our Lord, when we are reminded of the conversation between Moses and Elijah and our Lord Jesus Christ, we are reminded of God’s great exodus of deliverance, not just from the house of slavery, not only from the oppression of an evil queen but from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This exodus, his exodus becomes your exodus, from death and despair to life and salvation.
This very day, you are not alone or forgotten or forsaken of God. Though you may struggle, though you face doubts, worries, and fears in your life, you remain known, embraced, and loved by God. You are forgiven by his exodus and included in his journey so that you too will live. He will not let you go; he will not abandon you to the wilderness of this age. No, he calls you his own and declares you to be the saints of God. The presence of God descends as a cloud again upon a mountain top. As in the days of Moses and Elijah, once more God arrives, and Peter, James and John are filled with fear. And the voice of God speaks clear and simple. “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”