The Transfiguration: “Get Up and Don’t Be Afraid”
Scripture: Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9
Elyse Fairweather, guest preacher
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, February 26, 2017
Jesus and three of his disciples went up to the mountain, and while they were there, Jesus was transfigured. His face shone like the sun and his clothes were brighter than the brightest white. He was literally awe-some.
When I think about the transfiguration of Jesus, it feels magnificent and immensely holy. God’s voice filled the air, saying “this is my beloved.” That’s something you never forget. It’s a transformative moment. It’s a powerful moment. It’s a special moment. In fact, one commentary writes, “[t]he incident is also linked with the story of Jesus’ baptism by the proclaiming of his dignity by a voice, the proclamation being the same on both occasions: This is my Son, the Beloved One. On both occasions, the veil of the present is stripped away to reveal Jesus as he is by Messianic calling, as he will be in glory.” It was an amazing sight.
This week, we enter into a season of the Church calendar called Lent. Historically, this has been a time where Christians utilize some method of fasting in order to draw closer to God. I remember, when my sister and I were in our teens, she decided to give up chocolate for Lent. I remember looking at her, saying, “chocolate?! Are you crazy?!” But she was bound and determined. She set her jaw and nodded her head. “Yep. Chocolate. I’m gonna do it.” Unfortunately her well-intentioned plans were foiled by a pumpkin chocolate muffin my mom offered to her for a snack after school one day. Two bites in, she says, “wait – is there chocolate in this?!” Maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty funny.
The purpose of Lent, of course, is not self-deprivation to be “good enough,” but rather to draw us closer to the Divine. So – what if we intentionally marked this season with this story of Jesus? It makes sense that the church calendar would set it up so that we had this story the Sunday before Lent. While Jesus’ transfiguration isn’t quite the same as the spiritual transformation or awakening we hope to experience during this Lenten season, it does set the tone quite nicely.
What would it feel like to hear God’s booming voice, or God’s still, small voice, saying “this is my Beloved child, in whom I am well pleased” – only this time, it’s about you?
We remember Jesus’ transfiguration, not to remind us how poorly we stack up to him, but in order to feel fully the holiness of Jesus. To remember all that he was and all that he is.
In the same way, we observe Lent, not to punish ourselves into being obedient or “good enough” – remember, Jesus teaches us not to follow the letter of the law just for the sake of doing it! But rather, we have the opportunity to observe Lent in order to foster growth in ourselves and with Jesus.
After his transfiguration, Jesus said to his disciples, “get up and do not be afraid.” I imagine them lying there, face-down and prostrate on the ground – their eyes wide and full of wonder; their minds racing. Or maybe feeling awe-struck means your mind goes completely blank. Whatever the case, Jesus spoke to them, as he often did, in a command and a reassurance. Get up. Do not be afraid.
I don’t know about you, but when I think about the state of the world right now, there is a lot that scares me. I fear for myself, but even more I fear for others. Those on the margins of our society, or those who maybe have more to risk – less security. Sometimes that fear is immobilizing. Sometimes, the mountain feels too steep and too treacherous to climb, so how can I even put one foot in front of the other?
Get Up. Do not be afraid.
It’s a call to action. A call to faith.
Get Up. Do not be afraid.
Jesus says this to his disciples, and he says it to me. He says it to you.
Elyse – get up. Do not be afraid.
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church – get up. Do not be afraid.
What is Jesus calling you to, today? How can I – how can you – how can we make a difference? How can we push past our fear, sift through our insecurities, and stride confidently into the light – as living water?
Perhaps a good Lenten practice would be to face my fears head-on. Maybe this is the holy answer.
In my life, all 28 long, and short, years, one thing that has helped me push through the hard times, the scary times, and even to dance in the joyful times, is to remember that this is not forever. This is temporary. This life is like the dew on a blade of grass – here today, and gone tomorrow. But what lasts forever is the love of God. Now, I don’t mean this to come across as denial of the world’s very real problems, or even more, to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the real need we see today. Rather, the intention is to encourage and propel us through the difficulties. We are temporary – we gotta get going.
This is not the final word.
The person of Jesus shows us that this is not the final word, in his very being. He is fully human – that means he is temporary. He died on the cross. And yet he is fully divine – he is beyond our understanding of time. He rose again, on the third day, and we await his eventual, final return in Glory.
That is one of the most beautiful things about the transfiguration of Jesus is that we have a glimpse into the conundrum that is Jesus Himself. Fully human, fully divine. Fully temporary, fully eternal.
Jesus shows us, in his life, what it is to be fully human. He expresses anger at the money changers in the temple; fear in the garden of Gethsemane; joy in his life with his disciples, and sorrow at the death of Lazarus. And at the same time, he shows us his divinity as well – we glimpse into the holiness and righteousness of God through Jesus. Jesus gets us. So, Jesus understands it when we look around the world today and all we can see are reasons to be fearful – reasons to feel “stuck.”
Jews, Christians, and people of different faiths have long since mused on the fact that this – this moment – is not the final word. Suffering is not the final word. Fear is not the final word. We, as Christians, have a hope and a faith in life after death and are called to actively work with God – alongside the Trinity, for the Missio Dei; the mission of God. We are called to work toward reconciliation and peace, bringing light and life to ourselves and others. Transfiguration isn’t just about becoming a better version of yourself, but also about helping restore the world. Bringing justice and peace, even and especially when it’s scary. Get up. Do not be afraid.
That’s a big undertaking. It’s kind of overwhelming to look at the big picture like that, right? And yet the call remains: Get up. Do not be afraid. So, what does that look like today? How can I change the world or myself, this morning?
Maybe it looks something like what Dee explored with us last week – small acts that add up to a larger whole – offering kindness, compassion, and mercy, not only to the people around us, but also to ourselves. Seeking the holy. Offering a hand-up to someone in need. Lending an empathetic ear to a friend who is hurting, without agenda or checking our watch every few minutes. These sound like simple things, right? But together, we are entering into a practice of actively choosing the side of love. And in doing this – in choosing love – fear doesn’t stand a chance. Jesus says to us, as well as his disciples – get up, and do not be afraid. Choose love, and do not be afraid.
What Jesus is offering his disciples is a reminder that they are not alone – and in turn, we are not alone. I can see him there, looking down at these men – his people – offering his hand, extending companionship and strength. After all, how much less fearsome is the night when you have the Light himself walking with you.
Get up. Do not be afraid.
If Jesus were up here this morning, instead of myself, what do you think he might be calling us to? What might he be calling us out of and into? After all, Lent is not about a prescription, it’s an invitation. Lent is not about following a list of do’s and do-not’s for forty days (plus Sundays). Instead, Lent is an invitation into a deeper relationship.
When looking at this Lenten season, how might Jesus be hoping we would connect with him? What might he want us to set aside, pick up, or step into?
What is amazing about the transfiguration of Christ, is that it reminds us, and points us to our own transformation in Jesus. This Lenten season, we are not asked to deprive ourselves, or deny ourselves anything. We can have the chocolate! Rather, we are asked to draw closer to the Divine, be open to the Spirit, and respond when we hear the call: Get up. Do not be afraid.
Thanks be to God.