“…and his face shone like the sun.” Thoughts on Transfiguration Sunday

haze in a meadow

Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins.

This month, we share insights written for the Last Sunday of Epiphany, also known as Transfiguration Sunday. Thanks to writers past and present for their contributions to the Moravian bulletin series.

In a Fog
Jason Andersen, pastor, Christian Faith Moravian Church, DeForest, Wisconsin • February 23, 2020 

From time to time, when we are overwhelmed with grief or stress or the busyness of life when someone asks us, “How are you doing?” Our only response is to simply say, “I’m in a fog.”

The disciples were literally in a fog that day; they could barely see the nose in front of their face.
Behind, in front, above, around, everywhere “The bright cloud covered them” (Matthew 17:5).

What must’ve they thought would happen next?
Did they reach for Jesus? For one another?
Did they stand as I would’ve, frozen and too scared to move?

Nowhere to go, nothing to do to overcome their present situation.
And then from the cloud came a voice: Behind, in front, above, around, everywhere. “I love my Son. I am pleased with my Son. Listen to my Son” (Matthew 17:5).
Then the disciples knew what to do: hit the ground.

When the answer comes, it can be terrifying.
When the fog lifts, we can find ourselves face down.
When the challenge greets us, it can feel like too much.
But when we look up, we will see Jesus (Matthew 17:8).

In the very center of our fog can come an answer.
Will we dare to walk into the cloud?
Will we risk the patient waiting that will reveal some things now
and other things much, much later?
(Matthew 17:9)

The Rhythm of the Christian Life
Dean Jurgen, pastor, Lititz Moravian Church, Lititz, Pennsylvania • February 26, 2017 

Why do you come to worship on a Sunday morning? Maybe you come to find a bit of peace; to get away from your problems for an hour. Or maybe you come to get motivated and empowered to face your problems in the world. Do you come with pains you want to forget? Or do you come to be prepared to face your pains? So, why are we in worship on a Sunday morning?

I think for most of us, it’s a little bit of each. This morning we ponder this dynamic of worship in a wonderful Bible story that is about worship: the story of the transfiguration. For there we see escape from problems as three disciples bask in the glory of the Lord on the mountaintop. And there we see that as they go back down the mountain, they have problems to face. They want to enjoy the mountaintop of awe and wonder in the Lord’s glorious presence. But they have to leave and face problems down in the valley.

The transfiguration. The story speaks of withdrawal from the world’s problems, and a returning to those problems. Withdrawal to take time to bask in the glory of the Lord, and returning to the real world in the power of God. Isn’t this the rhythm of the Christian life, like breathing in and breathing out?

mountaintops . . . and valleys
worship . . . and witness
loving God . . . and loving others
being blessed . . . to be a blessing
glimpsing a bit of heaven . . . to be empowered to reach the world
joy and glory on the mountain . . . before hiking down to journey to Jerusalem and its awaiting cross


Coming Down the Mountain
Pat Honszer, pastor, First Moravian Church, Easton, Pennsylvania • March 2, 2014

One minute, Peter, James, and John were standing with the transfigured Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, hearing the voice of God. Then they looked around; it was just them and Jesus—the non-dazzling Jesus with whom they walked every day. So down they went to where life with all its problems and challenges awaited—for Jesus, down the mountain on his way to the cross.

Even though they were to tell no one, what a life changer this must have been! How much easier it must have been going down the mountain—knowing the glory and power of the Christ who walked with them! How empowering this must have been! It didn’t mean that they would never be frightened again or flounder in their faith. But they did have this experience to hold on to—to give them strength to face the coming days.

Every once in a while, life hands us those uplifting, inspiring, life-changing moments—those times when we can see things clearly and truly experience God’s presence. Then reality sets in. Like the disciples, we need to walk back down the mountain.

Mountaintop experiences don’t change the circumstances of our life, but they do change us. God provides these encounters so that we can endure the world below. Knowing the glory and power of our God makes a difference. Knowing Jesus is present with us helps us deal with sickness, family crises, financial crises—whatever may come our way. Jesus can replace our fear and despair with hope, and ready us to go out into the world.  When all else fades, we still have Jesus, at the top or bottom of the mountain and everywhere in between. 

The Mountain and the Valley
David Fischler, pastor, First Moravian Church, Greensboro, North Carolina • February 10, 2002

There is something mystical about mountains. For all of recorded human history, those who have searched for God have sought God in the mountains of the earth. The events of the transfiguration, set on one of the highest mountains in Israel, are among the most mysterious, and most revelatory, in the Gospels.

His disciples see Jesus shining with an inner light, the glow of divinity, which speaks of his heavenly origin and his identification with the God of Israel. They see him speaking with Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the Prophets, who by their presence testify to Christ’s destiny as savior, his righteousness, and his uniqueness. They hear the voice of the Father himself, speaking to them of his beloved Son from the cloud that enveloped the mountaintop: “He is my Son, and not just as all the people of the world are my sons and daughters, my children. This is my one and only Son, God as I am God, holy, one with me in will and purpose. Listen when he speaks!”

How much must the three disciples have wanted to stay on that mountain! Peter even went so far as to suggest the building of booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, which would imply an extended stay basking in the glorious divine presence. But Jesus would have none of it. It was necessary to go to the mountain that his glory might be made manifest. But it was also necessary to return to the valley, where the cross awaited him, that the sins of humanity might be atoned for and the hurts of humanity redeemed.

May we seek him on the mountain, and at the cross, that we may glorify him and serve those for whom he died.

No Turning Back
Author unknown • February 21, 1993

My acceptance of Jesus as my Savior marked the beginning of an essential transformation in my life. The knowledge of Jesus and his message of God’s love, forgiveness, and the gift of the eternal life for all humanity positioned me on a pilgrimage to see my Lord. In faith I know Jesus, and there is no turning back to life without him.

Six days after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus invited three of his disciples to join him on a mountaintop. Without a doubt their senses were aroused at the sight of Jesus’ face and garments aglow, and they were moved to fear upon hearing God’s affirmation of Jesus’ identity and purpose.

Jesus offered the world a life that broke with the status quo, but addressed the needs of people, especially those with no authority. He provided food for the hungry and healing for the sick. Now he was prepared to present his life for humanity.

The transfiguration of Jesus marked a point of no return. Jesus was now glorified, set in context of the Hebrew promise of a Messiah, and was journeying to Jerusalem to face his cruxifixion and resurrection.

We may never experience a transfiguration like Jesus, but as Christians we are people who have gone through a spiritual transformation that compelled us to hear the call of Jesus and respond as his own. Christians need not think about turning back because Jesus, the Messiah, did not turn back.

The Transfiguration
Matthew 17:1-8 (NRSV)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwelling  here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While 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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.