A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
“You are my dearly loved child”
A cellist with the Sarajevo symphony, Vedran Smajlovic, did what he knew best to help the citizens of Sarajevo. In full evening dress, he took his cello and sat down amidst the rubble, or with the frightened in bomb shelters or those grieving at funerals and played.
He played concert after concert. It was his gift of love to the city. He did it because he felt his community needed hope and encouragement in the face of so much death, destruction and hopelessness.
His music defied the sound of bombing and gunfire and gave people the encouragement to believe that in spite of the death and destruction, a beautiful future was possible. This kind of hope was his gift to each person to see beyond the darkness of joylessness and insecurity and fear.
In 1984, Sarajevo was the focus of the world as it hosted the Winter Olympics. Ten years later the sports facilities created for the Olympics were in ruins. The city of Sarajevo was under siege by Serbian forces. Mortars and artillery fire instantly transformed once beautiful buildings into rubble. Sarajevo’s citizens were frightened, weary and increasingly despondent. No one knew when shells would rain down on them and bring more destruction and death. Snipers targeted people on the streets. Countless were killed, wounded and maimed.
Taking the Gospel reading in its context, there were dark and joyless days ahead for both Jesus and the disciples. Jesus had already started to warn his disciples that there was a rough road ahead. In just a few verses before our text today we hear this, “Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matt 16:21).
We know that Peter didn’t like Jesus talking about fierce opposition, suffering, and being killed by his own people and reprimanded him for speaking this way. I guess we would do much the same. If someone we love, who was hale and hearty, suddenly started talking about coming to a violent and sudden end, we would do something similar.
What made this kind of talk even harder for Peter is that he had just confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It just wouldn’t make any sense if someone as important as the Messiah, the one sent by God, God’s own Son, was to be killed by God’s own chosen people. Besides of what use would a dead messiah be? This was unthinkable. Peter had given up everything for Jesus.
We know how Peter felt about the looming dark days ahead. Jesus had the same kind of feelings and emotions that we have, and so I imagine that the thought of rejection and mockery and the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross made Jesus flinch. He didn’t deserve treatment like this. He had only helped people. He had shown love and kindness. This kind of treatment is all wrong. It isn’t fair.
So, he does what he usually does when things get too heavy. He withdraws – he withdraws to spend time with his heavenly Father. He goes to a mountain to be alone in prayer. There he meets Moses and Elijah and they talk. A voice from a bright cloud says, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
What happened there on the mountain – his encouraging and supportive chat with Moses and Elijah who put his fears to rest and refocus him on God’s plan to save all people, and then the affirmation from the Father in heaven “This is my dearly loved Son” – all this was like a father putting his arm around his son saying, “I know this is an incredibly tough thing for you to do, but you have my support and help. You won’t be doing this alone”.
This mountain top experience wasn’t only an encouragement for Jesus. In just a short time, the disciples will be sitting in the rubble of everything they believed about Jesus. What they had seen and heard was suddenly blown to pieces. Their faith was shattered into a thousand pieces. Everything was turned upside down when Jesus was arrested and then crucified, the disciples were confused and troubled by everything that was taking place.
And this wouldn’t be the only time when their faith would be challenged. Rulers and kings would imprison them, people would stone them, others mock and abuse them, they would go hungry and thirsty and be deprived of basic human decency. They needed something like the cellist of Sarajevo to encourage them and give them hope in the middle of everything that was going wrong.
For them it was the image in their minds of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, the divine glow around Jesus, the voice coming from the bright cloud, “This is my dearly loved Son” that gave them courage, hope and a focus.
We heard Peter talk about the events of that day in our 2nd reading (2 Peter 1:16-18)as if it had happened just yesterday, whereas in actual fact 30 or more years had passed. This mountain top experience made a lasting impression on him (not many, if any, Gospel events are recalled in the letters of the New Testament in the same vivid way). The veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted just a little and his true greatness, his godliness, his honour and glory were revealed. Something really important was going on through Jesus.
If Peter ever experienced, as we do, days of uncertainty,
if he ever wondered if he was on the right track,
if he was ever tempted to go back fishing instead of being an apostle,
I believe the transfiguration was one of the memories that shed light into his human dilemma. God was at work and just as Jesus had been encouraged before going to Jerusalem, Peter was confident and full of hope as he faced his own Jerusalem whatever that might entail. His reflection of the transfiguration reminded him, “Yes, Jesus is truly God’s Son. I know it. I have seen his divine glory. I heard the Father call him, “My own dearly loved Son”. Because of what Jesus’ did for me, I am now also a dearly loved son of the Father and he will watch over me always.”
So in the end what does the transfiguration of Jesus offer us today?
How does this event in Jesus’ life help us?
Does it have anything to say to us in 2017?
When we come here to worship, we come into God’s presence and the divine is revealed to us. We have our own transfiguration experience. We hear again the Good News of salvation, sins forgiven, the call to discipleship, the promise of eternal life. In some way, every time we hear God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, the veil is torn away, and for a moment, we see the glory of the Lord, his will for our lives and our place in his family.
We celebrate Holy Communion with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven; what a glorious moment. We gather around the throne of the Lamb and are renewed, revived, strengthened, encouraged and given new hope to face the troubles that confront us in the dark valleys of the week ahead.
When we are burdened with everything that happens in our lives, we are given a glimpse of the One who invites us to load all our burdens and worries on to him – his power is far greater than any problem that we think is insurmountable. He says to us in our particular need, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 NLT). Hearing words of the Scriptures like that, lifts the gloom that is clouding our lives and assures us of strength that is beyond our strength to cope. It enables us to deal with troubles that baffle us. We see Jesus’ shining face smiling at us and the Father’s arm embracing us as we remember that we are his children as he says to us, “You are my own dearly loved son or daughter”.
The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that when we are in the nitty gritty of working for God’s kingdom
when being disciples means making choices that go against the way rest of the world thinks and behaves;
when loving and caring and being kind is hard work;
when forgiving and being reconciled with those who hate us goes against everything within us;
when sacrificing for others is considered stupid in this self-centred world;
when others challenge our faith and question God’s part in this crazy and cruel world and we begin to question our own beliefs,
it is just then as we go down the tough road of discipleship that we hear again Jesus’ encouraging words, “You are my own dearly loved child who gives me great joy. Don’t be afraid. I will be with you.”
When you walk out the doors of this church this morning, nothing very much has changed in our world. It will be an ordinary, perhaps somewhat uninteresting, February day out there, down there, in the valley, with nothing visibly different from when you came in.
But you will be different. You have been in God’s presence. You have seen the brilliance of your Saviour’s face and his love for you. You will be different because you have been encouraged and been given hope. You have heard the word that keeps you going until your next mountain top experience, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him. You are my dearly loved son or daughter. I will walk with you through the dark and scary places of this world into the brilliant sunshine of eternity”.
And that leads me to finish where I began. Remember the cello player who used his gift of music to give hope and encouragement to the terrified and grieving people of Sarajevo. God has given each of us a variety of gifts. Think about this! How can we use the gifts God has given us to bring encouragement and hope to others?
The cellist of Sarajevo certainly stepped out of his comfort zone to give that encouragement. How can we be more willing and bolder in sharing the love of Christ?
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy