Having recently returned home from a cruise in January I can’t help feeling for the 4000 people who were quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
The rooms are extraordinarily small – much smaller than a motel room.
The expectation of a cruise is that you’ll spend most of your time on deck throughout the ship or on shore, so the room doesn’t need to be that spacious.
Even having a balcony doesn’t really add that much to the room.
So even though those stranded passengers are on a luxury cruise ship there is very little enjoyment going on being trapped in your cabin.
Sometimes life can be like that.
Even though our surroundings might seem like everything is going great – job is going great – family life is great – church is going great – finances are going great – inside we might be feeling like our world is collapsing.
And like those on the cruise ship, what began as a holiday of a lifetime turned out with unexpected circumstances.
No one could have predicted what they are going through.
So too with life, life may be cruising along really well but then tragedy happens.
The Transfiguration of Jesus which we are celebrating today is a message that God sends to us to give a glimpse of hope because there are many times in life where we feel like life around us is very dark and dismal.
There are times when being a Christian does not add instant joy to our lives especially when we are going through difficulties in life – sickness, grief, financial worries, family worries, worries about the future – worries about the present.
Jesus is about to begin his walk to the cross and he has previously explained to his disciples what that would mean – that he would be handed over to the leaders, suffer and die.
No one could have predicted that outcome with everything Jesus is achieving.
Just like none of the passengers could have predicted their outcome on the cruise or they wouldn’t have gone on the cruise.
When Jesus chose his disciples and said – come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men – if he had said, follow me and you will suffer and die because of me – would they have followed him?
Peter was mortified and wanted to end this nonsense that Jesus, the Messiah, would have his life ended in such a way.
So Jesus takes them up on a mountaintop and there he reveals the truth to Peter and the other 2 disciples.
For a brief moment Jesus’ true glory is revealed.
And for Peter this is more like it.
This is the ending Peter wants for putting his faith in Jesus.
And so he offers to build 3 dwellings to keep Jesus, Elijah and Moses there for all to enjoy.
There are many times in our life where we would love to freeze that moment in our life.
To build dwellings for us to stay in so we don’t have to leave.
But Jesus says that they can’t stay there and that they must return, back down the mountain and to the real life.
We don’t really know what Peter, James and John experienced fully other than Jesus became dazzling white.
Probably similar to what the Israelites experienced when Moses appeared before God and came back and had to have a veil put over his face because his face was glowing so much that it blinded the Israelites.
On those occasions a cloud would cover the mountain or the tabernacle to announce God’s presence as Peter, James and John also experienced when a cloud enveloped them at Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speak to them.
As I read this account again there are 2 things that come through which I believe are what Jesus prepared for them when he took them up the mountain.
It wasn’t just to be a dazzling light show.
Firstly there is the message that comes from the cloud – the presence of God.
God also spoke from a cloud in the Old Testament.
The glory cloud in the Old Testament was called the Shekinah Cloud.
The Shekinah Glory Cloud was a visible presence of God on earth.
The word Shekinah is a Hebrew name meaning “dwelling” or “one who dwells.”
It helps us to understand why Peter said – let me make 3 dwellings.
3 dwellings that we could keep coming back to when we need to.
But the message said that this would not be where they would come to for hope and strength.
He says: This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
When we start to worry about the future or the present we need to come back to Jesus and listen to him.
The dwellings Peter wanted to build were human made dwellings we make for God.
God is saying – come back to Jesus and what he has created.
Where are those places – there are 2 of them that we have always taught: Word and Sacrament.
Jesus is God’s Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us.
There again is that word “dwelt”.
God makes his dwelling with us – we don’t make a dwelling for God.
In a way God was sad when David and Solomon wanted to build a temple for God because he designed the Tabernacle to be transportable so he could go with them and not remain static.
In the Greek the word “dwelt” among us it is the same word used in the Old Testament for Tabernacle – the dwelling of God.
Jesus is the new transportable tabernacle who goes with us.
In times of worry or distress – we go back to God’s Word.
We read it – we listen to it in worship – we pray it.
God’s Word is where all that God has to say is written.
All of God’s promises are there to give us hope.
It’s what John’s gospel says towards the end:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name – Listen to him.
And God has given us the Sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion.
In our Baptism we are washed and affirmed as God’s children.
The same statement made about Jesus at the transfiguration – This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him – is the same promise made at his Baptism.
In our Baptism is where Jesus made the promise to us – I am with you always till the end of the age.
That was important for Peter, James and John.
As Jesus sends them back down the mountain it says that Jesus went with them.
He was sending them back to the way of the cross but he was going to lead them and be with them.
And he is with you and leading you too.
Which is why he had earlier said to Peter when he feared the way ahead to the cross – Get behind me.
So, as fearful and uncertain as the present and future may be we stay behind Jesus who has promised to be with us always.
Listen to him.
The other Sacrament, Holy Communion, is Jesus promise to us also that he is with us.
This IS my body – this IS my blood.
And it is through this Sacrament that Jesus now makes his dwelling in us as our bodies now become the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
The blood that was used from the sacrificial lamb to cleanse the temple is now the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God used to cleanse God’s temple in us as God makes his dwelling place in us.
And that’s why God didn’t want Peter to build 3 dwellings at the Transfiguration.
God has already made his dwelling place and it is in each of us.
The Transfiguration continues in us as God continues to give us a glimpse of the glory awaiting us when we gather before him to worship him.
That’s why we leave the world behind today for a brief glimpse of glory in worship.
Like Peter, James and John, we are given a glimpse to keep our faith strong until the day we gather in God’s presence in eternal Glory.
As Paul says in Colossians to keep us strong : set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Until that day of glory may the peace of God that surpasses all our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.