2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead.
Thoughts on the passage:
Last Sunday we talked about how Christ call the disciples and how he claimed them as his own. We also talked about how Christ has called and claimed each one of us. The question now becomes, have we also claimed Christ. Martin Luther believe that our love for God and others was pure because God first loved us. By the same token, claiming Christ comes not as selfish act of desperation, claiming God in hopes of saving ourselves, but instead because a response to the saving love we have already experienced in God. We are able to claim Christ with our whole hearts because Christ has already claimed us.
The Sunday before Ash Wednesday is known in the church as Transfiguration Sunday. It is the day where we hear and think about the story of Christ’s transfiguration. Today we look at this story from the perspective of Mark. The transfiguration is when Christ takes three of his disciples with him up on a mountain and his glory is revealed to them. Suddenly, Christ becomes not just this extraordinary man, this amazing teacher, preacher, and healer, but he is revealed in all his divine glory. They see him for who he really is, and they want to worship him.
The transfiguration is a powerful moment for the disciples because it helps them better understand Jesus. This understanding becomes important because it gives them a context to also understand what is coming ahead, Christ’s death and resurrection. We celebrate Transfiguration Sunday right before Lent because it helps to give us a framework for what we are preparing for. Christ is not simply a prophet about to be martyred for a cause. He is God, and yet willing to lay down his life for us. Understanding Christ’s nature is essential to understanding Christ’s actions, and it is in the transfiguration that we can do that.
The transfiguration of Christ is also an important lens to use when thinking about how we can claim Christ for ourselves. The transfiguration is not the moment where the disciples decided to be followers of Christ, they had done so already on the beach at the start of his ministry. Rather, the transfiguration is the point where they really begin to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ, and they are able again to claim him for themselves as they fall down and worship him.
What does it mean for you or me to claim Christ? In our baptismal vows, we “confess Jesus Christ as our savior, [our] whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as [our] Lord in union with the church.” Even though we use the same words, I suspect that it is safe to say that we all have a different understanding of that vow means. Like the disciples, we are left to wrestle with the complexity of Christ and that claiming him as our Lord and Savior has a lot of different meanings. Are we saved from sin or saved from ourselves? How does the Lordship of Christ intersect with vows we have taken to friends, family, and country? When we claim Christ, what is it that we are really saying?
For me growing up, claiming Christ was about claiming the amazing power of God’s love. That love was the love that welcomed even an awkward and geeky outsider like me into the community. It was also the love that was able to overcome hatred, violence and even death in its compassion and commitment. I grew up on the sermons and stories of Martin Luther King, Jr and so many other heroes of the civil rights era who chose to express God’s redemptive love in their actions rather than responding to hatred and violence in kind. Like Dr. King and others, I saw in Christ the perfect model for how love can transform the world and I claimed it.
I would never seek to say that my understanding of Christ is perfect or complete. Each of us is unique and so experiences Christ from our own perspectives. For those who feel like an outcast, the Christ they claim may be reflected in his ministry to those on the margins of society, the tax collectors and sinners of his day. Others have experienced great trauma or brokenness and look for a Christ who will offer healing. Still others need a personal savior to delivery them from the sin and temptation they experience in their own lives. All of these are aspects of Christ.
Our challenge as Christians is to remember that we are never going to fully be able to understand Christ. When the disciples see Christ transfigured in the story today, they see a new side of Christ and they are terrified. Peter’s instinct is to try and enshrine Christ and freeze this moment. Unfortunately, his instincts are wrong as always. Christ is not a butterfly to be caught a pinned beneath the glass, a trophy of our spiritual discovery. Rather, Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. We can no more grasp Christ than we can count to, or even fathom, infinity.
Christ has called and claimed each one of us. We have heard that cry in different ways and at different times. Each of us in our own way has found a way to say yes and to respond to Christ. Claiming Christ for ourselves is a part of that response. It however, is the beginning not the end of the story. When we claim Christ, we are saying yes to follow someone who we will never fully understand. Like the disciples, the more we can experience Christ, the more our awe and reverence will grow and the more we will have yet to learn.
Just as the transfiguration cannot really be understood until after the resurrection, our understanding of Christ needs to grow and evolve as we continue to be in relationship with Christ. Claiming Christ means signing up for an ongoing process of following and learning from Jesus. Unlike a contract, where we can understand all the details before we sign on, claiming Christ is an act of faith. We promise to follow and serve Christ, not knowing where it will lead, but putting our trust in the one who has showed us love and grace from the very beginning.
Questions to Ponder:
What does claiming Christ mean to you?
What was appealing about Christ to you when you first began to learn about him?
What does it mean to you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
When is a time you have been like the disciples and wanted to capture a moment rather than move on?
God, you appear to us in so many ways: a child in a manager, a stranger on the beach, or a figure clothed in radiance and grace. Help us to see beyond our limited understanding of you and recognize your divine presence when it is hidden in our midst. Bless us as we claim to be your followers and give us the courage to embrace what lies ahead, even though we do not know where it will end. Walk with us as we begin our Lenten journey again this year. Amen