By Chuck Alley
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 17:1-13
1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
In the Transfiguration, the disciples experience the laser-lit, glorified, post-resurrection Christ, along with the prophet Elijah, the law-giver Moses, and the voice of God. But in the end, when the fog clears, they are left with Jesus alone.
In Baptism we begin with the words “There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all” (BCP, 299). In the end we invite the newly baptized into the church by saying: “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood” (302-303). So we are left with Jesus alone.
When the cloud passes, the disciples find themselves with Jesus alone, and they follow him back into the world. This is a graphic image for mission. It is done on Jesus’ initiative, according to Jesus’ plan, with Jesus, and through sharing Jesus with the world.
Christians are called to social service. It is a good work. But Jesus wants to take our good works and transfigure them into powerful mission. That happens when he is at the beginning and the end of such good works, and when the good news, not only human values, is at the heart. Jesus alone leads mission. We must feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick or in prison, and serve the least of our brothers and sisters. As Christians, we must do all these things in the name of Jesus, because he is the source of justice and mercy, he is the ends and means of salvation, and only he can turn all our temporal works to the eternal glory of the Father.
Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.
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