Even though I have been preaching about the Transfiguration of Jesus every year for almost 25 years I am still pretty perplexed by the whole thing. I think most people are. I wonder what folks think when they come into church and see that it is Transfiguration Sunday. Do you think, “Wow, this is a really special Christian holy day, what should I wear?”
In seminary I learned that the Transfiguration of Jesus is principally a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t dispute that, but I’m not sure what to do with that.
The central question I put to a text I am preparing to preach on is what does this text show us about ourselves in relation to God? I have to be honest with you, I have a tough times answering this question for the Transfiguration story.
I could punt and go with the other texts, in this case the “Assumption of Elijah” (does Elijah lift off on a rocket?) in 2 Kings or Paul’s “light shining” discussion of the gospel in 2 Corinthians. But I am reluctant to abandon the Transfiguration narrative because I know it’s important. Here’s one thing I get from all these texts (and the devotional), God in Jesus in ambidextrous.
To be ambidextrous is to be equally competent with either hand, which I am not. What I mean in applying this to God is that in Jesus two distinct “hands” of God (or traditions) are brought together in Jesus. Those two traditions are represented by Moses and Elijah.
Moses is, among other things, the great law giver. Moses was credited with responsibility for the first five books of the Bible (Penta-teuch) containing the law of God which formed and informed the Promised Land people of Israel.
Elijah represents the prophetic tradition, that tradition of interpreters of the law who informed the people, and especially the powerful, how their activities positively, or more likely negatively, affected the community.
The legal community enshrined in the temple and the sacrificial system sometimes (most of the time) found itself in conflict with the prophetic tradition over what stood at the center of Israel’s faith. A good example of this conflict was expressed by the prophet Hosea and quoted (retweeted) by Jesus, “I (God) desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13)
Jesus, as is evidenced by his frequent quotations of the prophets and conflicts with the legal scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees seems to favor the prophetic tradition. But God in Jesus is ambidextrous and the Transfiguration imagines a literal meeting of the legal (mosaic) and prophetic (Elijah) traditions in the person and ministry of Jesus.
This is interesting, no? Of course it is, but it doesn’t answer the sermonic question that keeps me up at night (usually Saturday) … so what?
Help me out this week. Think about these texts for Sunday and have a look at the “Eat the Goat” chapter in Surviving the Bible and let me know why you think the Transfiguration matters (or doesn’t) in your faith life.
Or tell me what you like or dislike about this story, what makes sense or doesn’t make sense to you. Maybe we can figure something out before Sunday!