The Transfiguration of Our Lord
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 9:28-36


The story of the Transfiguration was apparently important – a big deal – for the early church. It is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is apparently important to us too, as we get this story twice each year, actually three times over a 12-month period. We have it here from Luke on Transfiguration Sunday. We had it six months ago on the Last Sunday after Epiphany. We’ll have it six months from now, again on Last Epiphany. And it should be important to us, as an event in the life of Jesus and as a faith lesson for our own lives.

Scripture, and the Christian faith, are full of mountain-top experiences: Moses receiving the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai and peering over into the promised land at Mt. Pisgah; the test of Abraham on the mountain in Moriah; Elijah’s conflict with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel; even our Lord’s death on the summit of the hill called Golgotha.

We’ve all heard people talk about, and have talked about ourselves, the mountain-top experiences of our lives, but of all the biblical stories that that phrase might bring to mind, perhaps the least of them is the story of the Transfiguration. Which is strange, since the origin of that phrase—its true meaning—is found in the Transfiguration event.

It was on a mountaintop that the Transfiguration took place. Jesus was glorified as God put his stamp of approval on Jesus’ life with the words, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

This, by the way—the Transfiguration—is also the turning point in Luke’s Gospel, as it is in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is the pivotal moment—the crucial event—that marks a change of focus for Jesus.

Up until now his focus has been on ministry in and around Galilee: teaching, preaching, healing, gathering a community—followers—to help spread his message of the coming of the kingdom of God. But from this point on, Jesus’ focus changes to his death and destiny. It is an almost myopic or tunnel vision as, in the words of Luke, “he sets his face toward Jerusalem.” There is no looking back, and Jesus knows there is no staying on the mountaintop, when there is work to be done – a mission to be accomplished.

Peter, and James, and John, on the other hand, were overwhelmed by the glorious thing that they had seen and heard and felt. They were so overcome with emotion and amazement and joy, they wanted to stay there. Since they had had their own “mountain-top experience,” they didn’t want to go back to the ordinary. They wanted to stay right there, right where they were, and relish the experience—treasure it up—avoid going back to everyday life.

And we are like that too. All of us have had some kind of mountaintop experience. And these experiences make a world of difference in our lives. They transform us, and we are never the same again.

But, like Peter and James and John, we are tempted to want to stay where we are, to set up camp right there, in the bliss of it all, rather than going back down the mountain to the chaos and mess (and ministry) that await us. If we could, we would probably stay on the mountain forever, but we can’t stay. In our Christian lives, we must remember that all of life can’t be a mountaintop experience.

Nevertheless, if we are to have the strength and stamina to do the work we are called to do, we do need those occasional trips to the mountaintop. Everyone does. And that’s what church and the community at worship are about. The liturgy of the Church is a reflection of the “mountaintop experience” of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God touched the world with the Glory of the Son. Indeed, in the liturgy, in word and sacraments, and the mutual company of all worshipers, we are transfigured. In the liturgy we have been on the mountain, whether we know it or not.

Today, as we touch our mouths to the bread and wine, as we lay hands on one another in prayer and in peace and in the name Christ, we touch and we are touched by God. We are transfigured, transformed—changed—from creatures of the earth, valley dwellers, if you will, with terminal life-spans and temporal concerns and cares, to mountaintop people, eternal creatures of God and residents of God’s kingdom.

But still, we cannot tarry on the mountain. This cannot be our only place for meeting and experiencing and serving the Lord. For like Peter and James and John, and even Jesus, we are called to come down from the mountain and, in the words of our liturgy, to “go forth” to proclaim by word and example the love and reconciliation of God in Christ.

As disappointed as Peter and James and John were to leave, they came down from the mountain and followed Jesus to Jerusalem. They followed their calling as disciples of Christ.

We are invited to do the same.

We are invited on a journey to the mountaintop as we gather in this place, to bask in the presence and light of God in our worship, in our community, in the Eucharist; and then we are called down from the mountain, to go out into the world, as strengthened, healed and renewed people, and to share the gospel as apostles of the crucified and risen Christ.

It is here to the mountaintop we come, for a while, to be renewed and refreshed, transfigured and transformed, fed and healed; but it is out there that we are called, to renew and refresh, to transfigure and transform, to feed and heal.

May God empower us all to accomplish the tasks to which we are called, and the grace to experience the mountain-top.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.