In today’s gospel for the Feast of the Transfiguration (Luke9:28-36), I think it’s interesting that the word used for Jesus’ “departure” is the same word in the Greek for “exodus.” The footnotes in the bible I was using this morning made that point. The Old Testament lesson (Exodus 34:29-35) is the story of Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining after speaking with God. The main connection, of course, is the shining that was shared by Moses and Jesus, but I wonder whether the sense of exodus/departure is another tie.
Jesus is getting ready for the journey to Jerusalem and the death that awaits him there. A few verses later, Luke describes that ominous destination by writing, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In my mind’s eye, that looks like a dramatic and determined stare, as if Jesus were slightly squinting with jaw clenched as he set off toward the holy city. Perhaps that profound determination stems from the fact that, as he starts that journey, he was leaving something behind.
The first half of the gospel story is Jesus’ attempt to show his people who he was and why he came. In some ways, of course, that mission failed. Ultimately, he is rejected and crucified. But maybe at the half-way point, which is where the Transfiguration happens, there is a moment where Jesus acknowledges that the bright and shining glory that might have been is not to be. Instead, the triumphant victory slips away, and Jesus leaves it behind him as he sets his face toward Jerusalem.
The Israelites, too, were leaving something behind, but there we set free from slavery in Egypt. And, perhaps even more significant than that, it was during their exodus wanderings that God gave his people the law. He gave the sacred texts to Moses in conversation, and the shining of Moses’ face is evidence of that.
It’s as if the Israelites departed slavery so they could encounter God’s shining, and Jesus’ shining comes and goes as a sign that it was left behind. Perhaps the Moses and Elijah companions on the mountain top remind us that God’s plan, while complete in a brief moment, has yet to truly take root on earth (insert Peter’s silly request to build booths here). That which could have been was not to be, and Jesus’ journey to the cross is recognition that God will need to intervene through the death of his son before anything gets set straight.