In today’s gospel, we hear about the Transfiguration of the Lord—it is that unique miracle when the even the Lord’s skin because resplendent with light and the heavenly father again spoke publicly of His son. I say that it is a unique miracle because it is the only miracle in the gospel other than the resurrection and the ascension that happens to Jesus himself. All his other miracles involve healing or feeding other people.
I want to focus on something particular that happened during that Transfiguration. As you know, both Moses and Elijah appear talking to Jesus. But what does the Gospel say that they are talking to him ABOUT? The gospel says that they appear in glory to talk to Jesus about the Exodus that he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem. That is very significant, and we shouldn’t discount it too easily. What is meant by “exodus”?
We know the event that they are referring to in the life of Jesus, at least. What is going to happen in Jerusalem is that Jesus is going to go on trial, be falsely condemned, crucified, killed, buried three days and then rise again. But what does this have to do with the Exodus?
The Exodus generally refers to how the Israelites left their slavery in Egypt pursued by enemies across the desert, led by Moses, who led them to the promised land after forty years while being taken care of in various ways by God himself.
The question is what does THIS exodus have to do with the events at the end of Jesus’s life? How are those events an exodus?
Y’all, this gets into deeper theology than I can possibly go into here, but let me just briefly compare the two. First of all, one of the major jewish expectations of the new messiah is that somehow he would lead a new exodus of the jewish people. They were not sure exactly what this was going to be. But Jesus does indeed release us from the principal slavery of the human race – the slavery to sin.
In the first exodus, the law was given to Moses. In the second exodus, Jesus fulfills the law by giving them the new commandments of love.
There was also an expectation that the new messiah was supposed to give them a new temple. And this Jesus did as well. Except it was the temple of his body that is the primary focus of our worship rather than a building.
And perhaps most importantly, just like Moses institututed the Passover meal for the Jews and they were also given manna from heaven to feed them, the new messiah was supposed to also give them new bread from heaven and feed them with the new Passover. Jesus does exactly this in the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist.
I know that some of that may be a little deep for a few of you, but I want you to understand how much Jesus was connected to the prophecies of the Old Testament, and how much he truly fulfilled the expectations of the Messiah, even though it was in a way that no one could have ever imagined. Who could have imagined that Jesus meant an exodus out of the darkness of sin? Who could have imagined that the new Passover would feed us with his body? Who could have imagined that the new law would be about love alone, or that Jesus himself would be the temple? It boggles the mind, but this is in fact what we teach.
Maybe the key question is how do we make this exodus with Jesus? How can we be transfigured with him?
Paul tells us today in the letter to the Philippians, “for many people, as I have often told you, and even now tell you with tears conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Now who might those people be? We might not jump immediately to the conclusion that we are enemies of the cross of Christ. Who wants to think that? If we look at the letter in context, we see that these so-called enemies have their stomach as their God and think about worldly things to the neglect of the things of God. They are incredibly anxious about success, food and money and give little thought to giving thanks and praise to God. When we think about it this way, we may fall a little bit more into Paul’s ” enemy” category more than we would like.
It is interesting that St. Paul does not say that these people are enemies of Jesus Christ. He specifically says that there are many, even among believers, that are enemies of the CROSS of Jesus Christ. I find that very significant. There are many who forget that in order to reign with him, we need to be crucified with him. In order to make the exodus with him, we need to make a long, arduous journey with him. In order to be saved by him, we need to be fed daily by him. In order to rise with him, we have to die with him. This is what can be easily forgotten. The CROSS. There are preachers on radio and TV that try to make us believe that we will live perfect lives blessed by God as long as we go to church on Sunday and give a little money. But there is very little evidence for that sort of theology in Scripture and Tradition. The shadow of the cross looms over us because that is the price of our sin, and we cannot escape it without Him. Our world is trying to remove that shadow from us by saying it does not exist, that we are not guilty, that everything we do is ok and that we are our own masters. This is the very theology of hell, and hell is where it leads.
The cross changes everything — even what love looks like. Ask most people to paint an image of love, and many will point to something from romantic Hollywood–couples embracing and kissing, and say “This is love.” But the cross? Christianity? God points to a beaten, bloody, naked man hanging on a tree and says, “THAT is love.”
What did Jesus say?: “Unless you daily pick up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. Unless you deny your very self and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. Unless you forsake everything and prefer me above all else, you cannot be my disciple.”
Y’all, I am not overly thrilled about the message of the cross, either. I can be lazy and spoiled. But I’m also not stupid. Scripture and Tradition bear witness to the truth of the cross, and it cannot be ignored – well, I guess it COULD be. But it is ignored only at the risk of not really being true Christians.
Is the cross bad news? I don’t really think it is. My point is not to plunge you into clinical depression when you leave this church. Because what else do we tell someone who is trying to be faithful to God but still feeling crushed beneath burdens, dejected, lonely and lost? The fact is that I have often confronted good Christians (and even my own heart) who felt these emotions and then thought that they were crazy or evil for feeling them. But doesn’t the truth of the cross teach us that these feelings might actually be COMPLETELY NORMAL??? Isn’t it GOOD NEWS that I might not be crazy when I feel these emotions after all; I might actually be faithful to following my Lord, who Himself felt these emotions because of the cross he bore for others?
You know, I actually made the pilgrimage up Mt. Tabor where the Lord was transfigured. We drove most of the way up with a guide, who drove so fast around a hundred hairpin curves that I was truly in fear for my life. When we got out of the van I fell to my knees and kissed the ground in thanks. It is quite a high mountain. It would have taken Jesus, Peter, James and John all day to climb up there and it is rough going.
But that is where Jesus took his best friends – in a rough climb up a high mountain. I don’t suppose that we can expect to be treated differently. Christian life can be hard. And shortly afterward he told them that there was no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. And not many years afterward, all three of them spent the rest of their lives, and two of them a bloody martyrdom, in order to prove that friendship. Up the mountain is where Jesus took his friends. And when I climbed up there I found myself praying that Jesus allow me to be in that small group of friends that he takes with him. Because those who climb with him with their crosses, those who go on exodus with him, also get to see him transfigured. They are the ones who get to see the miracles. And they are the ones who will reign with him forever.
My prayer for you and for myself is that I will see you on that mountain with him as well. Amen.
Fr. Basil, February 25, 2013