Here we are on top of a mountain again, where we know that something important is about to happen. We will not be disappointed. To try to understand our Gospel of the transfiguration let us go back a bit to Matthew 16 (the previous chapter) and verse 21, only six verses before our reading begins.
“From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day to be raised.” This comment is immediately after the conversation at Caesarea Philippi, the stylistic artistic and actual turning point in Mark’s Gospel where Peter, asked who he thinks Jesus is says: “You are the Messiah, son of the living God.” This is faithfully also reported by Matthew, in his chapter 16. So, Jesus’ closest disciples comes to the right realisation of who Jesus is, having followed him for months and lived the highs of the ministry of teaching, healing and miracles and then …. And then is told that Jesus is going to die.
Why we may ask, now quite late in Jesus’ time, does he take only three of his disciples with him and not all twelve? After all he has been teaching them all, they should be close knit by now. I want to suggest that these three were his closest friends, Peter, James and John and that Jesus moved by their despondency at the news he has been giving them took them with his to the top of the mountain to encourage them.
And what encouragement it was. They all three know the detail of Moses going up the mountain to receive the commandments: That he took only his closest assistant, Joshua, (who also was designated his successor), that the mountain covered with a cloud showed the glory of the Lord like a devouring fire, and they would of course like us remember that Moses on reappearing was radiant.
See how many elements were shown now in real life to Peter, James and John. The mountain, Jesus’ face transfigured so it shone like the sun, his white garments, a bright cloud, the voice of God reiterating those words at Jesus’ baptism “This is my son, the beloved, ith him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
I suspect you see that the disciples found it all too easy to believe that Jesus could die at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes after all these folk had not hidden their anger at Jesus and they were living in a brutal world, where becoming an enemy of the state courted such consequences.” But whether they could so easily believe “and on the third day be raised” I doubt.
So Jesus, knowing all this, takes them to a mountain and surrounds them with symbols they perfectly comprehend. And then he adds something else - they know all about Elijah, how he did not die but was taken up in a chariot of fire and there he is , the prophet alongside Moses the lawgiver so clearly actually there that Peter is moved to make a shelter for them. Look Jesus is saying here is proof for you that there is life after death. Look and listen to me.
We all need encouragement, even Peter the rock. We have heard in Peter’s letter how good it was:
“We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty” and then Peter refers to this special occasion: “we ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on his holy mountain.”
So don’t be tempted to parcel up the transfiguration as something difficult and apart but ponder upon it and try to see it as an encouragement now for the whole church and a demonstration of those things which we believe.