On this Last Sunday After the Epiphany, we focus our attention on the Transfiguration, a sign that the light revealed to us in the birth and life of our Savior Jesus Christ dwells eternally in God and will come again to fulfill all of God’s promises. More immediately, we are reminded that the light of Jesus’ face remains with us in our life of faith and is a source of strength for us as we begin our journey through Lent toward the cross.
Our Old Testament reading is the powerful and highly dramatic account of the prophet Elijah’s ascent into heaven. Elijah’s successor Elisha follows along as Elijah makes his journey toward the Jordan, where the Lord will take him. Once there, Elijah rolls up his mantle (his cloak, the symbol of his prophetic power) and strikes the water, causing it to part and allow the two men to cross over on dry ground. Deeds of power, like Moses, to the very end! Then, as they continue walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire comes between them and Elijah is drawn up “in a whirlwind into heaven.” After this, Elijah became connected in the Old Testament tradition with the “day of the Lord,” God’s coming in great power to restore justice on the earth. In the Christian tradition, Elijah became associated with the Messiah, the one who would follow him.
The gospel reading from Mark echoes Elijah’s story, as Jesus and his disciples Peter, James, and John go up onto a high mountain. The mountain, the cloud, and the whirlwind—all are conveyors of God’s presence and power. Once there, Jesus is supernaturally transformed, made radiant, with clothes dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appear and talk with him. The disciples are understandably terrified. From the cloud, God’s voice speaks, identifying Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Just as suddenly, it’s all over, and the disciples are left standing there with Jesus, alone. As they descend, Jesus admonishes them to keep this vision secret until he has risen from the dead. It is a sign for them of the truth that Jesus already bears within himself, that will be revealed in his resurrection, that he is the Messiah, the one who has come to save the world.
As we enjoy these last glorious days after the Epiphany, we should bask in the light of life and joy all around us and remember that this is all God’s gracious gift. We will carry it in our hearts through Lent until it bursts forth from the tomb on Easter morning.