Friday, August 4, 2017

Eight Days Have Disappeared

If you, like me, use the version of Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 9:28-36), you probably missed the first seven words of verse 28, which are left out. If you use the lectionary inserts provided by Church Publishing, you also likely missed those seven words. And, if you read the gospel lesson during church from one of the gospel books published by Church Publishing, the whole congregation will miss them, too. I plan to print out those seven words and tape them into the gospel book so that the congregation doesn't miss them. They're important:
Now about eight days after these sayings,
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James,
and went up on the mountain to pray. 

I understand why the editors of the lectionaries cut them out. If we leave them in, the hearer naturally asks, "What sayings?" That's a good point. Whenever a first verse in a lesson begins with a word like "Therefore" or "So," it can be right to cut it out. this time, however, I think the sayings that took place eight days before the Transfiguration are critical. Simply put, you cannot have the Transfiguration without the sayings that took place eight days earlier, and omitting the reference to them, which Luke used to forever link this moment of Jesus' glorification with the words that came before it, leaves something out.
What were those sayings? As in all the synoptic accounts, the Transfiguration follows Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah. This is, in effect, a turning point in the case being made for Jesus' messiahship. For the first half of the synoptic gospel accounts, the authors use the miracles and parables and other encounters to show us who Jesus really is. Then, in an epiphanic moment, Peter discovers the truth. Only then is Jesus' glory revealed on the mountain top. After that, the synoptics portray a Jesus who is focused on Jerusalem and the fate that awaits him there. No longer is the case being made for the disciples, but the case for Jesus as the to-be-crucified and to-be-resurrected Messiah is being made for all of us. If he really is God's anointed one, what will that mean? It means betrayal, suffering, death, and then resurrection.
And that's the rest of the sayings that we lose when we discard those seven words. After Peter's confession, Jesus predicts his death for the first time. Luke omits the argument between him and Peter about whether that's true, but Luke does include Jesus' description of true discipleship as a path that requires us to take up our own cross and follow him. We must lose our life if we are going to save it, he tells us.
And then, and ONLY then, do they head up the mountain for the Transfiguration.
Don't lose sight of those seven words. Even if you don't read them aloud--and I think you should--then keep them in your mind as you preach. The Transfiguration is not merely a moment when Jesus' glory shines through. It is a moment when that glory shines through in direct response to Jesus' description of his own ministry and the ministry of those who would follow him as one of rejection, suffering, and death. On Sunday, if we leave the mountain top with a sense of victory that does not first lead through the valley of struggle, we will have missed the point entirely. That victory is assured, but it doesn't come in isolation. It doesn't come without following Jesus all the way to the cross.

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