About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah— and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, this is a great moment! Let's build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He blurted this out without thinking.
While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: "This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him."
When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.
I have always wondered about this passage. It’s one of those that when I read in a utilitarian method, “How can I preach this?” it is awkward and doesn’t easily lend itself to an application. Reading through the text within the limits set by the Daily Office forces me to wrestle with this passage and this passage on its own merits.
I “understand” the passage so far as it goes. It’s pretty straightforward. I’m tempted to see the “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him,” as the center of the story. But, I wonder if there’s more to it.
What if the center of the story is the, “And they continued speechless”?
As I sit with this passage this morning I am struck by what happens here is that Peter, James, and John see Jesus as he really is. They experience for a moment the fullness of his identity as the incarnate God-man.
When the three come face to face with the glorified Christ they are left babbling and then dumbstruck. The glory of Christ overwhelms them.
It makes me think, am I left in awe of Christ?
Do I really have any true sense of the wonder and awe of the Christ whose name I so easily invoke?
Annie Dillard in her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, wrote this, “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
Well? What do you think?