Scripture Readings: Exodus 34:29–35 | Psalm 99 | 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 | Luke 9:28–43
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:35-36)
After months of tension, speculation, and many worrying signs, this week the Russian government fully unveiled it’s willingness to shatter European peace and invade the Ukraine. Like many around the world, this news has left me rather shocked, unsure of how to process this new reality. As events continue to unfold, we don’t yet know where this will all lead, but we do know that life has changed, and that the days ahead won’t be easy… especially for those in Ukraine right now who are fighting to defend their homes, fleeing to find a safe-haven, and facing the loss of their people’s freedom.
Today we in the Church celebrate Transfiguration Sunday: when Jesus Christ is revealed in glory to Peter, James, and John, giving them a glimpse, not only of His divine identity as the Chosen Son of God, but also a glimpse of what this Son has come to do… His mission of freedom.
Not the kind of freedom we often think of and hear about these days: the so-called freedom to say and do whatever we want, regardless of the consequences for ourselves or those around us. No, today we celebrate the unveiling of the kind of freedom the Living God Himself is bringing about through Jesus Christ our Lord. But before we turn to our passage from the Gospel of Luke, let’s take some time to reflect on our first reading from Exodus.
This strange passage takes place at a pivotal moment in Israel’s story: not long before the Living God had dramatically rescued their people from slavery in Egypt, setting them free to follow Him and share in His holy love. God had chosen Moses to lead this people, and to teach them what it means to live as His holy people, set aside to reflect God’s goodness in their whole lives. Yet at the very moment at Mount Sinai when Israel was agreeing to faithfully follow God’s ways, they broke them instead: bowing down to worship an idol… a god of their own designs.
At this crisis moment, God’s just about ready to write off His faithless people, but still the LORD makes room for Moses to intercede… to pray for Israel to be spared. God then listens to Moses’ prayer, and in Exodus 34:5-7 the LORD dramatically reveals Himself to His faithful servant:
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.”
The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
It is after this close encounter with the Living God Himself, that we are told Moses’ face begins to shine; reflecting the glory of the Living God like the moon reflects the light of the sun. In that moment when Israel’s unfaithfulness almost cost them everything, and Moses prayed for them to be saved, he ended up as close as it gets to sharing in the holy life of the LORD… transforming him in ways that others could not help but notice.
In fact, it frightened them. So much so that Moses would end up having to wear a veil to conceal the glory of God that was shining from his face.
This story sheds some important light on what life with God will mean for us all: Drawing near to God does things to us. It will transform us… in ways that others will notice, and not always find easy to handle. But more importantly, this story shows us that we humans are meant to reflect not just the glory of God, but His life, His character as well.
God shared Himself with Moses so Israel could share in God’s life too. So that they could come to know the Holy One who set them free. And who would one day reveal Himself to the world once and for all.
Turning now to the Gospel of Luke and the story of the Transfiguration, we hear how Christ’s glory is suddenly revealed to three of His followers. Like Moses, Jesus had ascended a mountain to meet with the Living God, but as He prays Jesus is transformed, transfigured, in a different way: if Moses was like the moon, his face reflecting the glory of God, Jesus was more like the sun, acting as the source of the dazzling light.
What’s more, Moses himself shows up, along with the prophet Elijah… two heroes from Israel’s ancient past who had both encountered the LORD alone atop a sacred mountain. We’re told they were speaking to Jesus about His departure… literally, his exodus… evoking that world-changing moment in Israel’s history when they were first rescued from slavery in Egypt, and set free to be God’s faithful children. Clearly, St. Luke is wanting us to start connecting the dots between what the Living God had done in the past, and what Jesus had now come to do. This One who completely shared in God’s glory was here to bring God’s freedom again… to bring about God’s great rescue mission that we know would lead to the cross.
As is often the case in the Gospels, the disciples don’t have a clue what to do. Peter blurts out something about making three tents, one for Christ and His two ancient guests, unwittingly making the three of them out to be equally honoured. Then suddenly, a voice from heaven singles out Jesus above Moses and Elijah: “This is my Son, my Chosen;” the holy voice says, “listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:35-36).
At the centre of the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is the conviction that in Christ, God is revealing Himself, His heart, His plans and intentions for the world once and for all. Jesus has come as God’s Chosen One to bring about God’s freedom to those in bondage to sin, despair, death, and the spiritual forces of darkness… so that we may share in the holy, life-giving love of the LORD. And more than that, so that we too might be transformed and reflect that holy love for all to share.
After all, the whole point of the vision of Jesus revealed in heavenly glory is not so that we can just gaze at Him in awe and remain unchanged, but so that we will listen to Him! So that we will place our faith in Him as God’s Son, His Chosen One. So that Christ’s words will begin to transfigure our whole lives.
This is part of what St. Paul is talking about in our reading from 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18, as he reflected on the story of Moses having to veil his shining face, and how Christians, illumined by faith in Jesus, are set free to share God’s light with the world:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Our lives, set free by the holy love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, are being transformed by God’s Holy Spirit… changed for good more and more into the image of Christ. Like Israel, we have been set free for a purpose: to be shaped by God’s own character. “Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” This is what God’s freedom looks like. The freedom from bitterness, envy, violence, and greed. Freedom from the fears and twisted desires that tears people and even whole nations apart. Freedom from the self-centredness that’s the sources of all sorts of destruction. Freedom to be led by the love of God, and to love our neighbours… and even our enemies.
This message is much more than beautiful sounding words… it is God’s Good News, meant for the messiness of life… meant to bring God’s mercy, and freedom to those who are still bound by darkness and despair.
Right after the vision and heavenly voice, Christ and His disciples come down from the mountaintop where they find a father desperately pleading for his only son, who was suffering gravely under destructive demonic control. The other disciples had been unable to do anything to help the boy. Overwhelmed and confused, all turn their eyes to see if Jesus can help. Luke tells us that “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Luke 6:42-43).
In 1 John 3:8 we’re told that “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” To undo all of the chaos and havoc caused by the forces of darkness at work in the world, and in our hearts. To set us free, transforming us each day by His Spirit of holy love.
In Jesus Christ God has made known His heart, and His saving love for our world. And He has given us His Spirit to set us free to share this life-changing love.
How has Jesus already revealed God’s glory and saving love in our lives? How has He already been at work bringing God’s freedom where we need it most?
How might Christ be calling us today to reflect His holy love in our lives? To make known God’s mercy, even in the messiness of life?
As we seek God’s freedom for ourselves and our world, let us listen faithfully to Jesus, our Risen Saviour, and place our trust in the rescuing love of God that He has revealed. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School