Transfiguration Year A
I don’t know if anyone famous said it, but if not, someone should: To be human is to fear. It makes sense. We are fairly fragile critters. We have lots of soft vulnerable parts and there are a lot of things out in the world that can hurt us. We can be bit by a snake. We can be crushed by rocks. We can be stranded in the wilderness without food, water, or shelter. There are lots of ways that our world can get to us. Since we are so vulnerable, we have developed various ways of staying safe. We build buildings. We wear clothes. We have ways of protecting ourselves. We gather together in communities as a means of staving off dangers and as a means of staving off our fear. Our fear keeps us alive, really, so fearing is not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, having no fear at all is a great way to die early. So, yes, to be human is to fear.
But the ironic thing is that while fear can keep us alive, fear can also kill us. If we are so afraid of the world that we never go out, we will starve to death. If we are so afraid of others that we never interact, we will we will slowly die until we are just a shell of a person. If we fear being expelled from the group, we will sink to the lowest level of the chain and eventually be trampled.
So fear can keep us alive but also fear can lead to a life that is not worth living. It is the balance of fear to living in our lives that make our lives fulfilling. It is having a healthy amount of fear but not too much fear that keeps us not only alive, but living and thriving. It is this level of life that Christ is calling us to.
Again, this week, we hear Jesus telling his disciples to not be afraid. The disciples had just experienced something that was totally beyond their understanding. Let’s face it; it is beyond our understanding, too! The disciples had just seen Jesus become blindingly bright and was surrounded by Moses and Elijah. Then they had heard a loud voice proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God. Some pretty frightening stuff if you ask me! But when the disciples become overly afraid, Jesus gave them the words of assurance, “Get up and do not be afraid.” This was not a rebuke but the loving words of one who cared. Jesus was reassuring the disciples that as long as Jesus was present, they would be kept safe. Even when things looked scary, the Shepherd was they to keep the sheep safe.
We have been having some frightening conversations lately. We have been stepping out into scary territory. And I will say that many of my first responses are to be afraid. I am scared about what is going to happen here at St. Swithin’s. I am afraid of what is going to happen to the people here. I am afraid of what is going to happen to Nick and me. The road ahead of us is anything but obvious. And it is this lack of clarity that often leads to fear. But it is in this time of fear that we need to most remember that Jesus tells us to “Get up and do not be afraid.”
We may wonder why this whole Transfiguration thing had to happen. Why did Jesus have to change? It obviously was not for Jesus sake, but for the sake of the disciples. This happened so the disciples could know that the one they called “Teacher” was not just a huckster of a teacher, which were very prevalent in Biblical times, but was a teacher in the tradition of Moses and Elijah. Jesus wanted to show the disciples that even in the midst of the strange happening of their time, Jesus would see the disciples through, also. Moses and Elijah were great and revered teachers in Jewish tradition, and for them to stand beside Jesus, in a very concrete manner, shows that the teaching of Jesus is in line with the teachers of the past. The disciples can look to how God had worked in the past and trust that even though they may fear, Jesus would not abandon them.
But also, the event of the Transfiguration leads beyond a tendency to look back and can only be fully understood by looking forward. The disciples would not have understood the significance of what they were experiencing because they had not as yet experienced the resurrection. They had not experienced the Glorified Christ in their midst.
We have the luxury of time to see the hand of God at work throughout all of this. Epiphany starts with the story of Christ’s baptism and God’s words, “This is my Son, my Beloved. Listen to him.” Now again, at the end of Epiphany, we hear these same words, but in a different context, the context of Jesus going toward his eventual crucifixion. But we are to lean on the promises and listen to thing one, this Son of God. And finally we can see how the Christ’s glowing face and clothing points us toward the resurrection. We are pointed toward the resurrection where even death will be destroyed and fear can be finally released.
Jesus, in his glorified state, walks up to the frightened disciples and raises them up and tells them not to be afraid. It is as if the teaching of Moses and Elijah are rolled up into the glorified Christ and promises of history brought together in the Son of God. And it is in the Glorified Christ that the disciples are told not to fear.
We are the children of the resurrection. We have the promises of the Glorified and Risen Christ. The promises that were made to the Jews are rolled up into the Glorified Son and have been handed down to us. It is with this whole background that Christ then reaches down and touches each of us and tells us to “Get up and do not be afraid.”
Just like the disciples, we may not know what all this means or where it is leading, but we are told to have faith, to not be afraid, and to believe. When we look to the Glorified Christ, not only do we see the love and forgiveness, but we also see Moses and God leading them through the desert and God giving the people the law by which to live. When we look at the Glorified Christ, not only do we see our Good Shepherd, but we also Elijah and the prophets speaking the truth to the people, even though the people may not have wanted to hear. We see in our Savior, the teachings of the past, but also the promises of the future.
As we venture forth, this is the image to hold near. We may want to hide in fear, but Christ tells us not to fear. No matter what lies in store, we can step out in faith, knowing that through the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are not alone. We may be overwhelmed by what we see around us, but we are not left to parish; the God of our ancestors and the God of our future is still here. It may not feel like it at times, but all we need to do is look to the Glorified Christ to show us our way.