Tuesday, February 13, 2007

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 9:28-36

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: Luke 9:28-36
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

General Comments:
1. We come now to Transfiguration Weekend. This is the last weekend of the Epiphany season. It began on January 6, the date on the Church calendar when we remember the arrival of the wise men (the magi), who bore gifts for the Christ Child. Throughout Epiphany, the Gospel lessons have recounted times when Jesus was revealed to be more than a mere human being, but was also God and the Messiah. (For more, see here.)

2. Every year, the Gospel lesson for the first weekend after Epiphany, whether taken from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke, is about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by His relative, John the Baptizer. Each of those three accounts, in their own peculiar ways, see Jesus being affirmed as the Son--the very reflection--of God by a voice from heaven.

The season is always capped by either Matthew's, Mark's, or Luke's accounts of Jesus' transfiguration (the alteration of His appearance) in the presence of three apostles: Peter, James, and John. In them, as in the accounts of Jesus' Baptism, a heavenly voice affirm Jesus' Sonship, as well as the need to listen to Him.

3. During the week following Transfiguration Sunday, we come to Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Church's season of Lent. Lent is the run-up to Easter. The length of the Epiphany season each year is shortened or lengthened by when Easter happens.

J.A. Dell in the wonderful old book, Senior Catechism, explains how the date for Easter is determined each year:
Christ's death and resurrection took place at the season of the Jewish Passover, a feast which was regulated by the moon. Ever since that time Easter has been celebrated on the Sunday after the full moon after March 21. Easter can come as early as the 22nd of March or as late as the 25th of April...
Easter is what's called a movable feast, as opposed to Christmas and Epiphany day, the dates for which are fixed at December 25 and Januray 6, respectively.

Because Easter falls on April 8 this year, there are two less weekends after Epiphany this year than there would be if Easter came in the latter part of April.

4. This Roman Catholic resource has information on the Transfiguration.

5. Once again, we return to one of the key principles for understanding a given passage of Scripture: context affects content.

Preceding our text in Luke's Gospel, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah of God. Jesus affirms this, but orders him and the other apostles not to tell anybody for the time being. (We'll talk about why Jesus gives this directive when the text comes up later.) Jesus then tells the apostles what is going to happen to Him--cross and resurrection--and warns them that following Him in this world won't always be a picnic.

Immediately following our lesson, Jesus and the three apostles ascend from the mountain where the nine remaining apostles proved incapable of exorcising a demon from a boy. Jesus performs the exorcism.

By Luke 9:51, we find Jesus resolutely moving toward Jerusalem, where He knows that He will be crucified.

In the midst of the chaos then, Jesus' glory as God and Messiah is manifest on the Mount of Transfiguration, a dazzling moment of promise in the midst of humanity's sin and the inexorable movement toward the death of humanity's Savior, Whose face is set for Jerusalem.

6. This then, is the fault line or the turning point in Luke's telling of the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. While opposition to Him has been gathering up to this point in Luke's Gospel, it's been a period when He has, by words and actions, demonstrated His identity as Messiah and God. Now, with determination. He begins to unpack what it means to follow Him, opposition to Him increases, and He moves with determination to His cross.

[Verse-by-verse comments tomorrow, I hope.]

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