This weekend’s Gospel is a little strange, I think, maybe a little hard to understand. We have Peter, James and John go up with Jesus to the top of the mountain, where Jesus is changed in appearance. He becomes radiant and his clothes become dazzling white, like the garment here on the rock in front of the altar – only more radiant. Moses and Elijah are suddenly with him, and Peter, James and John are astounded. They don’t know what to think. And I think we don’t either!
For Jesus’ friends this story is a very special, defining moment. They have seen Jesus do great things: heal the sick and raise the dead; and his words have been very inspiring. There is a little bit of a movement behind Jesus now: the ministry is just getting started. But right before this awesome sign on the mountain, he starts talking about how he is going to die. And the disciples don’t want to hear it. They’ve given everything to follow him, and now he’s doing this crazy talk about dying.
But up there on that mountain, they find out that he’s right. That in order for Jesus to accomplish what he came to do, he’s going to have to die, and rise from the dead. And the vision on the mountain gives them a sneak-peek at what that’s going to look like. They get to see Jesus as he is going to look right after he rises from the dead.
Jesus didn’t just come into the world to say nice things and do mighty deeds. Those are great, but that wasn’t his whole mission in the world. He didn’t come to make everyone feel good about themselves and go with the flow. He came to turn the world upside-down and to make everything new. There was going to be lots of change that would make people uncomfortable and even mad. And then they would kill him, and then he would rise from the dead. That’s how it had to work, that’s how he had to pay the price for our many sins so that we could live forever with God.
The other great story we have in our readings today comes from the first reading. Abraham and Sarah have been praying to have a child all their lives. Now they are very, very old, and God promises to fulfill his plans for Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And so, Sarah, in her old age, gives birth to a son, Isaac. They are of course thrilled at how blessed they are. But now, with Isaac growing up, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to prove his faithfulness to God: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to thelandofMoriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” So now Abraham has to weigh his trust in God’s promises against the loss of his only beloved son.
Now again, we know the end of the story: God did not allow Abraham to harm Isaac, but instead provided a lamb for the sacrifice himself. It wasn’t that Abraham had to prove his faithfulness to God; instead God turns it all around and proves his faithfulness to Abraham – and us!
There is a whole part of this story that was cut out in the reading we have today. What we miss is the conversation between Abraham and Isaac on the way, which, as you might imagine, is a pretty sad conversation. At one point, Isaac, who is carrying the wood and the torch for the sacrifice asks his father, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” Can you imagine how heartbroken Abraham was in that moment? But he answered out of his faith in God: “Son, God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.”
And Abraham was absolutely right – God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice – the perfect lamb, Jesus Christ. This whole reading is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and our salvation. God provided the Lamb – his only Son – to die for us, to pay the price for our sins, to lead us to everlasting life.
The world never looked so bright as it did on that Transfiguration day on top of the mountain. But that’s not the last glimpse of that kind of light. That light was just a tiny sample of the glory of the Resurrection. And the Resurrection was just a sample of the Glory of God’s heavenly kingdom, for which we all yearn with eager anticipation as we muddle through the pains and sorrows of this present life.
This is a chance for us all to see in Christ what Peter, James and John did. It’s a chance to see what Abraham did up on that mountain. God did what he asked Abraham to do – he offered his only Son. To take all our sins away.