Epiphany: Transfiguration Sunday

“Fear not.” Modern Bibles often say, “Do not be afraid.” Have you noticed how many times those phrases are in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Or in the Bible altogether? Many times they are the first words spoken by angels. Several times they are said by Jesus.

The only reason to say, “Don’t be afraid” is because it’s the necessary answer to our human response of fear – of awe – when we come face to face with death, loss, or mystery that leaves our knees knocking and our tongue tied. Awe is our natural response as mortals to the palpable presence of God.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to the three disciples at his Transfiguration.1 He even touched their shoulders to reassure them (in Matthew 17:7) while they stood on the mountain seeing him transfigured and wrapped in light. As if that wasn’t enough, Moses and Elijah came back from history to stand there with him, representing all the Jewish Law and the prophets, so wrapping up all of Israel’s covenant history with God in that single event.

Beyond that, Elijah was the prophet Jews expected to return right before the Messiah at the end of time. So here Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ coming death and Resurrection. Luke’s version literally uses the word “Exodus” to describe what was about to happen, bringing to a climax the most important salvation event of Israel’s entire history.
Awe is not a daily occurrence for most of us human beings. But when we experience it, suddenly disparate pieces of life fit together in a grand design. Like when we see a loved one and realize we love them with all our heart. Or a sunrise or sunset takes our breath away. Or an experience of prayer makes us realize the Creator and Redeemer of all that lives is right here with us, loving us, forgiving us, encouraging us.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday for most churches of all denominations around the globe. We will hear what Peter, James, and John saw before them on the mountain that day. We’ll probably stumble and stutter about setting up some religious ritual like Peter did. (Mark 9:5) And we will listen to God’s voice echoing God’s message at Jesus’ baptism, affirming Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son.
However you or I understand the nuances of that awesome experience, we will see who Jesus is in a unique way because of it. But the bottom line is this: “Jesus came and touched them [us!] saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’”

Fear not. Wherever you go, God’s love and God’s Son are going with you. Do not be afraid.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this with slightly different details. See Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36.