Text: Mark 9:2-9
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a bridge between Epiphany and Lent – a transition between a season that begins with the wise ones coming to see the infant Jesus and his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Epiphany opened with a star guiding the camels to the manger. Then we saw Jesus’ baptism by John and the beginning of his ministry of teaching, feeding and healing. Today’s text describes a dramatic event involving Jesus, Moses and Elijah, all of whom are depicted in our stained glass windows. There’s a lot to take in and process because the lectionary readings have been traveling at warp speed through Mark’s version of Jesus’ life.
Now Mark tells us that Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain where he is joined by Moses and Elijah. A bleached-white, dazzling light surrounds them followed by a cloud from which a heavenly voice speaks. Remember that at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Here the voice says, “This is my beloved Son; hear him.” I don’t know if this second pronouncement carried the same tone and cadence as the first. But I wonder if it was tinged with a bit of exasperation. The Revised Tamsberg Version would be: “The One standing before you belongs to me. Will you just listen to him?” I say it this way because the disciples had already demonstrated on multiple occasions that they didn’t get was Jesus was about. Now Peter’s response to the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is to offer to build a tent for them to live in – as if the threesome were just going to camp out on the top of the mountain and live there.
For several reasons Peter’s tent-construction plan doesn’t make any sense. You see the Jews considered Moses and Elijah to be alive in the presence of God. Their tradition held that Moses, whose burial place was unknown, and Elijah, who was taken up in a chariot, did not die. Now they join Jesus in a dramatic hint that he, too, would not die in the permanent, human sense of that word. Peter knew this history, but he was scared – “terrified” is actually the word our text uses – so we can cut him some slack if his response wasn’t the most thoughtful or appropriate. We’ve certainly said things after a shock that we wish we could take back.
Poor Peter doesn’t understand the symbolism of this startling scene, but he wants to capture the feeling. He wants to prolong the moment. It’s a photo op, says Beverly Galenta, and Peter wants to preserve this stunning event even if he misses its meaning. It’s like when you miss actually seeing your child receive her diploma because you’re so busy trying to take a picture of it.