Meditation for Transfiguration Sunday from Matthew 17:1-9
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Rise, and have no fear, Jesus says to his disciples after a glimpse of heaven.
But just a few moments before these words Jesus was transfigured and revealed not in His humanity but in His glory from eternity, a place that the disciples knew they wanted to stay- “Lord, it is good that we are here!”
But because nothing that is impure can be with the perfect purity of God, this glimpse of heaven became too much for them when the presence of God the Father spoke from the clouds and the disciples fell like dead men in the presence of God. When humanity is confronted with the purity of God’s holiness what else can we see but our own darkness in that light and if God does not bridge that gap between heaven and earth there is nothing else that we can do but to fall in fear before God.
But Jesus himself bridges that gap between heaven and earth for his disciples and for us, touching His disciples, no longer in His glory but in his humanity, and telling them to rise and have no fear because He was with them.
This little glimpse of heaven centered around Jesus would sustain these disciples throughout their earthly lives because they knew that it is Jesus who bridges the gap between heaven and earth, God and people. At the end of their lives Jesus himself will touch them and say, “Rise, and have no fear” and bring them fully into the glory of heaven they were only permitted to glimpse.
But this glimpse of heaven did not prevent the disciples from the struggle with doubt and uncertainty- Peter himself an eyewitness of the majestic glory surrounding Jesus swore to a servant girl three times that he never knew the man. So to the glimpses of heaven that we have been given in the revealed Word and testimony of the disciples will not take away all of our struggle with doubt and uncertainty in our own lives but they give to us a glimpse of what has been prepared for us by our faithful and loving God. Because our hope ultimately does not rest in these glimpses of heaven but in the faithfulness and love of Jesus who never abandons His people but brings us to be with Him eternally.
But from these glimpses, however small, we can learn much about the wonderful promises of God and what God has prepared for us.
• They remind us that God is God of the living, not of the dead. Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus were really Moses and Elijah from of old. Moses and Elijah conversed and spoke with Jesus, this kind of simple reality does not happen if in heaven we are all happy amnesiacs with no sense of who we are or were or who is around us. People talk to people. People with real lives, real personalities, real memories, real work to do. Heaven doesn’t take away who you are. Moses was still Moses, Elijah was still Elijah, Phil is still Phil, you are still you.
• God does not make us wait to come into His glory. But from death to life is a transition from being with God here and being with God there. God is the constant, even though we change, God does not. Just as Jesus says to the thief on the cross who confessed His faith- “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
• These glimpses remind us that in Heaven we are safe with God. There is no sin where God dwells, nothing will be there that can ever take us away from the God who loves us. “Nothing evil will be allowed to enter — no one who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty — but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Rev 21.27
• In Heaven we are reunited with the saints in glory, who will know us and we will know them. Moses and Elijah knew each other and knew Jesus as we will know the saints who have gone before.
• In Heaven there is work to be done. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” Rev 7:15.
The work that we have been called to do on Earth to love God and to love each other and in doing so living full and complete human lives does not end but continues in eternity without the limitations that sin and mortality have placed upon us.
• Finally, they remind us that God is faithful to his promises to us. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, not even death, but God has prepared a hope and a future for us.”
But this glimpse of heaven is not the end of the story, because heaven is not the final fulfillment of God’s promises, from Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
When the fullness of time is complete there will be:
• The last judgment- which is not really a judgment at all for those in Christ Jesus but a confirmation of who they are in Jesus.
• The reuniting of our bodies, made not from natural descent but from God’s will, created imperishable as Jesus’ eternal body after the resurrection is imperishable.
• Which will live, love, work, play, really be alive in the New Heavens and the New Earth where God brings His faithfulness and His desires for humanity to its natural fulfillment.
• And this New Heaven and New Earth recreated from the former things no longer exists from the natural order as we know it but from a sacramental existence with God who lends to it his eternal nature to sustain it eternally.
It is from these glimpses of Heaven and the fulfillment of all the promises of God, that we hear the words of Jesus speak to us today in the lives we live right now: “Rise, and have no fear” in this life.
• Rise, and have no fear- because God is faithful to His promises, he does not let you fall but lifts you up.
• Rise, and have no fear- because nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ, God is with you forever. You might change but God doesn’t and God always keeps His promises.
• Rise, and have no fear- because with God’s eternity there is meaning in this life. If there is no eternity then all that happens to us is an endless cycle of death and decay in a universe whose ultimate end is coldness and lifelessness. There can be no meaning, no truth, not hope, no justice, nothing of moral value, no meaning in that kind of world. But that is not the world we live in, these glimpses of heaven tell us that God has prepared much more for us and infuses this life with real meaning and hope, justice and value because there is eternity after this life.
• Rise, and have no fear- because this life is filled with meaning and purpose, your life too has meaning and purpose. Live that life that God has called you to live because you don’t have to be afraid of what tomorrow holds because God is already there holding all of your tomorrows.
Rise and have no fear Jesus says to you today from this little glimpse of Heaven.