“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” A beautiful welcome today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. A welcome on this feastday of the Transfiguration – a day that reveals the glory of God to us.
Jesus said: “The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!”
Jesus could have also said – something greater than Moses is here; something greater than Elijah is here. Moses and Elijah were front and center in the people’s consciousness. Remember that they questioned whether John the Baptist or Jesus himself was Elijah come back to earth. And Moses, the giver of the Law, of course was constantly the issue whenever Jesus was confronted with challenges about the Law.
Why did Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? They both represented the ministry of prophets in the Old Testament.
προφήτης = προ-φημί to declare openly, to make known
Moses himself was the prophet par excellence – not in the sense of prophesying the future, but in the far more important sense of proclaiming God’s word to the people. Elijah spoke the word of God in a most difficult time in Israel’s history when the people were in danger of losing all connection with God. Not only that, but they both had profound mountaintop experiences with God. They both passed on from life in unique circumstances – in a sense, they did not die! And both were denied the privilege of openly seeing the glory of God. Now their desire was fulfilled.
But the most important meaning of their appearance, I believe, has to do with their ministry as prophets. There were three primary offices in ancient Israel: the King, the Priest, the Prophet. In appearing with Jesus, it wasn’t only their desire to see God’s glory that was fulfilled, but also their ministry. Someone greater than Moses, someone greater than Elijah, was here. Jesus took upon himself the full ministry of the prophet: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” And not only to bear witness to the truth, but “I am the way, the truth and the life”! He was the Truth; he was the Word! The ministry of the prophet came to an end with Jesus – regardless of what Moslems believe about Mohammed.
In his mouth, the word of God became the word of man. The word is near us, on our lips, in our hearts, St Paul told us two Sundays ago. We can say that Jesus fulfilled the ministry of prophet, so that the ministry can be shared by all of us, individually and communally. We all share the responsibility of owning the word of God, making it our own.
Jesus brought the ministry of Moses and Elijah to an end so he could be our Great High Priest – to fulfill also the ministry of the priest. In his version of the transfiguration, Luke tells us that he spoke to Moses and Elijah about his exodus that he would accomplish in Jerusalem – namely his death. Moses was not a priest; that office was given to his brother Aaron.
In a sense we can say that the Transfiguration was the anointing of Jesus for his high-priestly ministry. The Holy Spirit anointed him to the prophetic ministry at his baptism. Now the Holy Spirit overshadows Jesus as the cloud and the voice of God again proclaims he is the beloved Son. The priest in Israel offered sacrifices for the people’s sins. Jesus offered himself. The priest was the means through whom God sanctified his people. Jesus now is our sanctification. Hebrews unites us so completely with Christ, that we read: For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one [source, Father]. (Hebrews 2:11)
Psalm 24 asks:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
This was a psalm of ascent, chanted or sung by the people as they went up to the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a psalm of entry. We also today are invited to ascend with Christ to the heights, where we are transfigured, filled with God’s presence, and brought to ministry in Jesus’ name. We are sanctified (made holy) together with him. We are of one source; we have the same Father.