Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after Epiphany | February 22, 2009
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, the resplendent light of your
truth shines from the mountaintop into our
hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved
Son, and illumine the world with your image,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who
lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. This is my | Son, my Chosen,
lis- | ten to him! Alleluia. (Luke 9:35)
1a. CONTEXT: Mark 9:2-9
The Transfiguration has traditionally been celebrated on August 6
(which became, with ghastly irony, the day of another transfiguring
light at Hiroshima). The Lutheran calendar, however, now celebrates the
feast as the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season, on the verge of Lent. This
placement is appropriate, not just in filling out the pattern which
ends each season with a Christological feast, but also as a liturgical
enactment of the way in which this incident actually functions in the gospel
narratives. From this mountaintop, we gain a glimpse of Easter's glory
across the dark valley ahead.
It may be that this story was once told as a post-resurrection event, and
it may also have had currency among more gnostic Christians as a
christophany more attractive than the messier mystery of Easter. The
special effects may seem weird, but there is something straightforwardly
understandable in the idea that Jesus' secret identity
would be revealed in a vision of glory to a select circle of his
Such spiritual visions and initiations into religious mystery are still
common but powerful phenomena, not only among devotees of "New Age"
cults but for many within the Church. It is easy to imagine a
religiosity which would see this mountaintop revelation, rather than the
Passion and Resurrection, as the soteriological "high point" of the Jesus
For us, however, this day functions not as the high and central feast of our
faith but as a prior vision of encouragement, a readying for the paschal
conflict. The story is related just after Peter has identified Jesus as the
Christ and Jesus has in turn laid out the meaning of that identity in the
terms of the Cross (8:27-9:1). The narrative pivots, and Jesus must now
head for Jerusalem, the capital city and the center of his opposition.
1b. Text: Mark 9:2-9 (NRSV)
9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a
high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach
9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three
dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This
is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"
9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but
9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about
what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 και μετα ημερας εξ παραλαμβανει ο ιησους τον πετρον και τον ιακωβον και τον ιωαννην, και αναφερει αυτους εις ορος υψηλον κατ ιδιαν μονους. και μετεμορφωθη εμπροσθεν αυτων,
3 και τα ιματια αυτου εγενετο στιλβοντα λευκα λιαν οια γναφευς επι της γης ου δυναται ουτως λευκαναι.
4 και ωφθη αυτοις ηλιας συν μωυσει, και ησαν συλλαλουντες τω ιησου.
5και αποκριθεις ο πετρος λεγει τω ιησου, ραββι, καλον εστιν ημας ωδε ειναι, και ποιησωμεν τρεις σκηνας, σοι μιαν και μωυσει μιαν και ηλια μιαν.
6 ου γαρ ηδει τι αποκριθη, εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο.
7 και εγενετο νεφελη επισκιαζουσα αυτοις, και εγενετο φωνη εκ της νεφελης, ουτος εστιν ο υιος μου ο αγαπητος, ακουετε αυτου.
8 και εξαπινα περιβλεψαμενοι ουκετι ουδενα ειδον αλλα τον ιησουν μονον μεθ εαυτων.
9 και καταβαινοντων αυτων εκ του ορους διεστειλατο αυτοις ινα μηδενι α ειδον διηγησωνται, ει μη οταν ο υιος του ανθρωπου εκ νεκρων αναστη.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart; The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. ANALYSIS: Mark 9:2-9
Mk 9:2 - "After six days" describes an uncharacteristic delay in the
driving (and driven) pace of Mark's story. I would suggest a parallel
here with an earlier pause and time-lapse in the detailed narration, namely
the forty days of tempting in the desert which come between Jesus'
spiritual anointing and the beginning of his ministry. Here again is
preparation for mission. Just as Jesus' wilderness experience is a
probable allusion to Israel's forty years before entering the land,
moreover, the reference here may be to Moses' preparation
before the mountaintop theophany in Ex. 24.
"Peter, James, and John" are named in 1:16-20 as disciples called at the
outset of Jesus' ministry, and they form a kind of inner circle around
him. (Andrew's absence from this circle suggests an interesting
exegetical and meditative tangent.) Here, as in Gethsemane (14:33),
Jesus seems to desire his closest companions to be with him
as he prepares for the suffering ahead. Here also, as is usual in Mark,
those in the inner circle will miss the point.
9:2-3 - This radiant glorification is a transformation which affects both
Jesus' body and his clothing. Such heavenly shining recalls once again
the revelation at Sinai (cf. Paul's use of the same verb in his
discussion of Moses and Christ in II Cor. 3:7-4:6),
but the imagery is also found in apocalyptic language
about the resurrection and glorification of the
elect (e.g. I Enoch 62:15, Phil 3:21, Rev. 7:14, etc.). A white garment will
also be seen on the angelic figure who announces the resurrection in 16:5-7.
9:4 - Moses and Elijah can of course be taken to personify "the Law
and the Prophets," now endorsing their own fulfillment in Christ, but
they are also both figures associated with mountaintop theophanies and
with eschatological hopes. Note that their appearance here doesn't seem
to be for the *gnosis* or edification of the disciples: they have come to
speak (*syllalein*) with Jesus. Though the content of their
conversation is yet another of this gospel's secrets,I think Lk 9:31's
image of the three talking about what will happen in Jerusalem rings true
in a Marcan key as well.
9:5 - treis skenas--these tents (tabernacles) may be thought of as shrines
or as dwelling places, and obviously the two meanings shade into each other.
9:6 - The kindness in excusing Peter on the basis of his terror may be
a bit ironic. In Mark we are hardly surprised by the description of Peter as a
man who speaks without knowing what to say.
9:7 - *Now* comes a word from God to the disciples. There is a memory
here again of Ex. 24, but more importantly we have the echo of
Jesus' identification from on high in Mk 1:11. Those words have
shifted from second to third person, serving as a divine confirmation of
Peter's confession in the previous section. But what constitutes a further and
striking change is that these words have taken on a quality of rebuke,
silencing and correcting Peter.
9:8-9 - Of course epiphanies don't last, but this one now seems to end
with particular abruptness. There is no teaching by Jesus on the
mountaintop; he teaches them as he takes them back down. And his
teaching leads back down, beginning with the command to secrecy. After
the resurrection, this event will make sense, but now it would only
prompt misunderstanding and idolatry.
3. STRATEGY: Mark 9:2-9
Some points worth developing:
1) The Preview of Easter theme isn't so bad. We need mountaintop
visions occasionally, need to glimpse the future glory as a hope and
encouragement for the intervening journey.
Welcome and use this this day for that kind of preparation, not just for
Lent but for the work at discipleship Lent represents.
Consider also that in a sense the celebration of Easter
itself functions for us as a kind of mountaintop epiphany, a *glimpse* of
transfiguring glory previewing the fullness of God's future.
2) It's also helpful to note that *Jesus* needs such encouragement and
strengthening for his task. This event takes place for his sake, not
for the disciples. He was heading off to die. Perhaps then his memory
of the voice at the Jordan River was not strong or certain enough.
It was he who chose to withdraw, who sought
the company of his closest friends, and who was, as it were,
also vouchsafed a visit with those friends from back home,
Moses and Elijah, friends who understood what lay ahead. This
is no docetic show for the world: the Transfiguration is first of
all the confirmation of a human being's vocation and destiny at a time
when he sorely needs that reassurance. What then of us? How do we take
care, for ourselves and each other, that we nurture and renew and
confirm our own callings in Christ?
3) If Mark puts this story in the context of the narrative of Jesus' vocation
(and of the disciple's inability to understand) we have the chance here to
say some helpful things about the danger as well as the value of worship.
This text, as we have seen, turns powerfully against those who would
gnosticize or religionize life. The problem with Peter's pious proposal in
v. 5 is only secondarily his idea that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah form a
threesome of equal majesty. It is rather his impulse to stay on the mountain,
to capture the moment, to enshrine it. God's corrective is immediate:
"This is my beloved Son; Listen to him!" *Not* "Worship him!"
Listening, in the sense of heeding as well as hearing,
is the task of the disciple. And that means following
Jesus back down to the valley. We need to spell that out.
Some congregations we have used this day as the time when we burn the palms of the
previous Palm Sunday to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Consigning those
symbols of our glad worship, now dried and yellow, to the flames also offers some
strong imagery about the limits of our visions and liturgies, and about the implications of our true vocation and only hope.
4. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Mark 9:2-9
ALLELUIA, SONGS of GLADNESS (ELW 318)
CHRIST UPON THE MOUNTAIN PEAK (HB 129,130)
HOW GOOD, LORD, TO BE HERE! (ELW 315; LBW 89)
JESUS on the MOUNTAIN PEAK (ELW 317)
O GOD OF LIFE'S GREAT MYSTERY (LBW 201)
O LIGHT OF LIGHT (HB 133,134)
OH, LOVE, HOW DEEP (ELW 322; LBW 88; HB 448,449)
O ONE WITH GOD THE FATHER (LBW 77)
OH, WONDROUS IMAGE, VISION FAIR (ELW 316; LBW 80; HB 136,137)
SONGS OF THANKFULNESS AND PRAISE (ELW 310; LBW 90; HB 135)
THEE WE ADORE, O HIDDEN SAVIOR (ELW 476; LBW 199; HB 314)
Exegete - John Stendahl, Lutheran Church of the Newtons, Newton, MA
LEXEGETE © 2009
Dartmouth, MA 02747-1925