Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus: the Transfiguration today

by the Rev. Anna Doherty

In my hometown, there was a church that has a bright blue neon cross on its façade.

At night, the cross shone neon-bright from the church steeple—you could see it from all over town.

Some people thought the neon cross was tacky, others thought it was wonderful, but regardless what you thought of it, the cross was a constant reminder.

You knew the church and its cross were there, because it shone so brightly.

I wonder if this also what the Transfiguration of Jesus is meant to be.

Like that neon cross at night, the Transfiguration of Jesus is a reminder of God’s presence that we cannot ignore.

Because it shines so brightly.

It is a message for us, a call, to look more closely, a way of saying stop what you’re doing and pay attention: “God is here.”

But to understand the Transfiguration as a message to the world, more specifically, as a call for the disciples of Jesus to stop what they’re doing and pay attention . . .

. . . means we need to fundamentally shift how we understand the moment of Jesus’ Transfiguration.

We need to change our understanding of just happens on that mountaintop in today’s gospel.

We tend to think that Jesus’ Transfiguration is meant to be a private moment between just Jesus and God.

A moment of God’s blessing and transformation just for Jesus.

After all, it is Jesus who seeks out the mountaintop to pray, a private place to be with his God.

It is Jesus, who as today’s gospel says, is transformed—“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

Jesus is the one who is physically changed by his encounter with the presence of God.

On the surface, at least, it seems as though the Transfiguration is just for Jesus.

And it is no wonder that we tend to think of the Transfiguration as God’s blessing bestowed on Jesus . . .

. . . because the scene of today’s gospel bears striking resemblance to an earlier scene in Luke, when Jesus does indeed receive God’s blessing.

Chapter 3 of Luke, at Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, when as in today’s gospel, a voice comes from heaven,

saying to Jesus “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

At Jesus’ baptism, God literally does bless Jesus, saying to him “you are my son, with you I am well pleased.”

And the Holy Spirit descends like a Dove.

So it is no wonder that we expect God to bless Jesus in this way at the Transfiguration.

Except, as you may have already noticed, while there are striking similarities between today’s gospel and Jesus’ baptismal blessing.

There are also striking differences.

Whereas at Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven is directed specifically at Jesus . . .

In today’s gospel, it is clear that God is in fact speaking directly to the disciples, not to Jesus.

Instead of God saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

in today’s gospel God says to the disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

And unlike other moments when the disciples accompany Jesus to a private place of prayer . . .

namely, the Garden of Gethsemane, where the disciples, we are told, are unable to stay awake…

In today’s gospel, the disciples fight the urge to sleep, and manage to stay awake to witness Jesus’ glory.

The disciples are actual witnesses of this moment between Jesus and God.

More than that, the disciples are witnesses to Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop.

One gets the sense that the disciples even overhear what Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking about,

As today’s gospel says, “they were speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

I believe that the disciples are meant to witness to this moment.

They are meant to be witnesses to the Transfiguration, to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and to hear the voice from heaven..

That in fact, the whole point of the Transfiguration is so that the disciples of Jesus,. . .

. . . those faithful followers of Jesus who, in the events of Luke’s gospel, are about the follow Jesus straight to the foot of the cross in Jerusalem.

Know just where to fix their gaze, know where to keep their faith, know just who to watch, know who to pay attention to.

. . . in the difficult and dangerous time ahead, when they will watch Jesus, their Messiah, suffer and die.

In other words, the Transfiguration is meant for the disciples, not for Jesus.

At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ transformation, his changed face, his dazzling clothes, the appearance of Moses and Elijah . . .

. . . and the voice from heaven, calling out to the disciples, they are like a neon sign that cannot be missed—

Look! Pay attention!

God is here in this man, in Jesus!

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!

Because this next part, the part where Jesus journeys to Jerusalem, where Jesus journeys towards the cross, towards suffering and to death . . .

. . . this, God says, is the most important part, the part you need to pay attention to.

Don’t miss it. Don’t lose sight of Jesus in this moment.

This is important.

And you can bet, that when God spoke out of a cloud to the disciples on that mountaintop, God was also speaking to us.

God speaks to us, as much as to Peter and John and James:

“This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

After all, we too are disciples, followers of Jesus.

And we too, in our own way, journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, towards Jesus’ death on the cross

I don’t know about you, but it feels as though we are living in uncertain and frightening times.

Maybe all people of faith feel this way about the times in which they live.

For the disciples, certainly, the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross was a frightening and disorienting time.

And yet God uses Jesus death in Jerusalem for the redemption and salvation of all of humanity.

And so in moments of frightening uncertainty, keeping our attention fixed on the person of Jesus is a good idea.

Not simply because salvation and redemption are to be found in the person of Jesus Christ, but also because, quite simply…

Jesus shows us how to live, how to act, what to do in the midst of uncertainty and fear.

Jesus shows us how to remain faithful, how to trust in God, how to serve others rather than our own interests, how to love.

Jesus shows us all this in his journey towards Jerusalem and the cross.

At the Transfiguration, God tells us, God shows us, in ways that cannot be missed . . .

. . . in mountaintops, in Jesus’ changed face and dazzling white clothes, in the appearance Moses and Elijah and in God’s own voice from the heaven . . .

Pay attention! You don’t want to miss what comes next.

Don’t lose sight of Jesus.

Jesus is the key to everything that is about to happen.

And what will happen is God’s power working in the world on behalf of God’s people.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and you will find your way.