Transfiguration – 2 Kings 2:1-12 & Mark 9:2-9
For those of you who have been following your Daily Devotional I suspect you have, like me this past week, been walking step by step up the mountain that ascends to Jesus’ Transfiguration.
Transfiguration is not a word which is in common usage. We are more familiar with the words transform, transgress or Tranzalpine or Tranzcoastal (to alter the spelling of the word by replacing the S with a Z)
Transfiguration is one of those “church” words which have a specific meaning. Because this is Transfiguration Sunday, in this context, the word refers to Christ’s appearance in radiant glory to three of his disciples on the mountaintop. Before the eyes of the disciples Jesus was transformed into something more beautiful or spiritual. The Transfiguration experience was a revealing to the disciples who Jesus really was: God’s Son, the Messiah, or Christ. Jesus was changed so as to glorify – which is what, in this context, the word transfigure means.
But our journey towards Transfiguration doesn’t start with Jesus – it starts with Elijah on his pilgrimage to Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River, gathering up in himself places and people of Israel’s rich past to take with him as a chariot offering to God. Elijah knows he is going to die and go to be with God. It is as if, before death, he is going to the places of significance in his life – places where he has had an encounter with the Holy God, to say farewell to the people there and gather up something of the richness of the experience of the past to take it with him into eternity.
Elisha, Elijah’s faithful companion, travels with him insisting that he will not leave Elijah – he will be faithful unto death. In each place they visit, people whisper to Elisha, “You know the prophet is about to die.” Elisha’s pastoral advice to them was to be silent – he and his Master were fully aware of Elijah’s death being imminent.
As God asked Solomon, “What may I do for you?” Elijah asked Elisha, “What may I do for you before I am taken from you?” And that which Elisha asked for was the blessing, or mantle, of his Master whom he had faithfully served for so many years. “Let me inherit a double share of your Spirit.” After Elijah departed, Elisha tore his own clothes from himself, picked up the mantle of Elijah, placed it on himself, and was transfigured. The firstborn of each family in Israel could ask as an inheritance a double blessing – Elisha received a double blessing of the spirit of Elijah.
From this story of Elijah and Elisha, two questions stand out for me, for us, as people of faith today.
Elijah visited places of significance for him before he died. There he gathered up gifts from his past, and that of Israel, to offer as a gift to God in death.
What would you gather up from the richness of your life to offer as a gift to God in death? Morbid as it may seem for me to remind us, we are all edging closer to that same journey that Elijah took. Maybe not loaded on a chariot riding up into the heavens – but still the journey is the same. What is it that you value from your past that you would like to offer to God as a gift at your death?
Elijah knew that death was imminent – he didn’t need people to remind him. The whispering of others that he was about to die didn’t change the outcome. Like us, Elijah knew that each second, each minute, each hour, each day is a gift from God. Our lives in the present are always lived on the edge of the past. As we go to sleep each night with Christ we can say, “Into your hands, I commend my Spirit, O God.” The next day is a new gift, a fresh resurrection from sleep, where God calls to a day of transfiguring as we die unto self and live into him.
The second question – Elijah asked Elisha what he wanted of him before he died. Elijah asked for a double share of his spirit. Out of this, at least two issues arise:
The first is, if you were able to give your children a double share of any blessing you were able to endow them with, what would that double share be? Would it be wealth and possessions with financial security for life, or would it be the gift of faith, to love and be loved by those dearest to them; would it be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Would it be to be a deep sense of well-being so they love others and themselves or would it be a successful career which may or may not come at a reasonably personal high cost?
And for yourself, if your parents had offered you a double blessing of anything you asked of them, what would you have asked for yourself – the courage of Nelson Mandela, the popularity of the Beatles, the compassion of Mother Teresa, or the wealth of Bill Gates?
What do you want for yourself? The choice determines your whole life. Elisha tore away his old clothes to take on the mantle of Elijah. What is it that we have to cast off – to say goodbye to – in order to be transfigured?
The Transfiguration of Jesus took place on his way to the Cross. Like Elijah, he knew what awaited him as he journeyed back to God, his heavenly Father. What is it that awaits us?
Paul, one of the greatest disciples of Jesus, actually never met Jesus in the flesh. Paul’s goal in life was to persecute followers of Jesus because he believed that they were a threat to faithful worship of God. In Paul’s words, ‘his eyes were veiled by the Gods of this world.”
What were those Gods? The five P’s – presumption, prejudice, prestige, possessions, and power. For Paul, these five P’s came through his religious belief. Seduced by the power, praise, and reward resulting from persecuting Christians, he refused to countenance any other understanding of God than his own. That is until his transfiguring experience on the road to Damascus, where his encounter with the Spirit of Jesus, totally changed or transfigured his life. Paul talked of something like scales falling from his eyes. I wonder what those scales were – prestige, power, possessions? What did Paul have to cast off in order to walk the way of Jesus towards the Cross?
We all know that following Jesus isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to cast something off in order to take something new on. Sometimes we have to journey back into our past to rediscover what is really of worth and value in order to get closer to God and each other.
We may be inspired and impressed with the transfiguration experiences of Elisha and Jesus, but I have a suspicion, that like Paul, we have been even more awestruck (if only we have eyes to see) by our own transfiguration.
To God be the glory. Amen