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Luke 9: 28-36
Transfiguration Sunday

Transfiguration Sunday, 2024 Luke 9: 28 – 36 

Transfiguration can be celebrated at different times it can be celebrated on August 6th.  I noticed on our church calendar this year that today was listed as “Transfiguration Sunday”, which is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  This is a common practice for our friends in the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

for example, it’s celebrated on the Sunday that closes the season of EpiphanyThe transfiguration story is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  This story is a good example of why Matthew Mark and Luke are often referred to as the synoptic gospels, synoptic means “presenting or taking the same or common view”[1].  All three stories describe Jesus’ transfiguration very similarly.  Today we read Luke’s account of the transfiguration.  So then, what is it?  According to the commentary in my Oxford Bible, the gospellers are describing “an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”[2]  I think that’s a fair definition.   It was an occurrence the intensity of which I daresay none of us will ever, experience.  I imagine it would have been quite overwhelming for Peter, James and John.  So, I thought it might be an interesting experience for us today to look at this a bit like a bible study verse by verse to maybe help us understand it a bit better.

Now, in Luke’s version, the placement of the transfiguration is significant.  The transfiguration happens after the feeding of the 5,000—the loaves and fishes miracle-- an event in which Jesus is trying to help the crowds understand who he is, the true one from heaven who will fulfill all their needs, and more!  After this was over, Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (vs 18)Then he asks the disciples who they thought he was and Peter says “The Messiah of God.”(vs 20) And he tells them that he has to undergo great suffering, and if they wish to become one of his followers they need to take up their cross daily and follow him.  And that leads us into our story for today.

  28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 

Why 8 day, it could mean about a week.  Or, as my Oxford bible notes, “the eighth day became a designation for both the Lord’s day and the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the first day of a new creation.”[3]

Peter, James & John:  Jesus “inner circle”, so to speak, they go up the mountain with him.                                                                                                            Jesus often went off to pray, sometimes alone, other times taking his disciples with him.

Why a ‘high mountain’, well traditionally that where God is thought to be, it’s where to go to have revelation or experience of God; the higher up, the closer to God.


29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

Jesus changes, his face and clothing alter, he “dazzles”. Lovely descriptive word, dazzles.  Luke says his face “changed”, his clothes a dazzling white.  Mark & Matthew use the word transfigured, which indicates  a divinely inspired change, which is where we get Transfiguration Sunday from

WHO ELSE HAD SNOWY WHITE CLOTHING?  In our Daniel reading for today, Daniel’s vision of one in white clothing, as white as snow, described as the Ancient One—this is Daniel’s vision of God. 

So, this is most definitely a divine experience the three disciples are experiencing.

WHO ELSE’S FACE SHONE AFTER A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH GOD?   Moses! His face shone after he was up the mountain speaking with God, in fact he wore a veil to cover his face, it was so distressing to the people to see.   

30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

        Elijah and Moses, these two gents are extremely significant in the history of the Jews.    So, what about Moses?  He    delivered the people from slavery, he was the giver of the Law, he brought them the ten commandments and brought them to the promised land.    And Elijah?   He was the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, indeed you could call him Jesus’ prophetic precursor. Elijah the one who was to come before the Messiah.  Indeed we read from the book of Malachi 4: 4-5, the last 2 verses of the last book of the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible:

Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.  Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”  (Malachi 4. 4-5)

Moses and Elijah were there with Jesus:  Jesus is the continuity of the law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah).  Remember Jesus told the people, he came to fulfill the law and the prophets.


31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Moses & Elijah too appeared in glory—they too were shining, they too had transformed in appearance.  This reminds me of the nativity story:  ‘the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid’. God’s glory is so immense, so intense, almost beyond our abilities to cope with it.

The three of them were discussing Jesus’ departure:  the Greek word used for departure is exodus.  This departure, this leaving was special, it was to be an accomplishment for Jesus, this was something that required some discussion, some work, some planning— and with Moses & Elijah no less.  This was more than standing at the airport departure gate, hoping for a spur of the moment last minute flight for a quickie vacation,

Jesus was to accomplish this departure at Jerusalem.  His departure, his exit, his leaving was to be an accomplishment.  An accomplishment is something you achieve, and been working towards.   

This exodus on which Jesus was to embark would be a difficult trial, maybe more difficult than that first Exodus and this step was the beginning of it with an amazing God-promised goal at its end, like the one that came before!

32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

Ok, so the guys were tired, it was late in the day, they’d probably had a hard climb up the mountain.  Jesus was praying for a long time, it was hard to stay awake, but they managed it and were rewarded for resisting sleep and saw all three of the prophets in the full glory of the Lord.  

33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 

Is this just Peter babbling? Was he overwhelmed?—well truthfully, it would have been overwhelming.   Or was this a real desire to commemorate this amazing event, to build something permanent as a reminder for all time?

We, humanity, we do that, don’t we?  Build things in our “desire to capture the holy”[4]—like churches for example, or cenotaphs, or other permanent structural reminders of significant experiences. 

But I wonder if Peter was missing the point of the whole experience because...

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 

The cloud overshadows them – why would that be terrifying for them? What does the cloud mean? During time of Moses God was the cloud leading the people through the desert.  The cloud is God; God is overshadowing them. Picture yourself being enveloped in a fog so thick that it blots out anything else, like being wrapped in cotton wool.  And that cloud is God.  I can understand how that would be terrifying.


35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 

Where have we heard those words before? This echoes the baptismal revelation.  The command to listen!  It’s like God’s giving them a verbal slap up side of the head[5]—just in case you weren’t sure yet just who this Jesus was, and whether to believe what he was telling you, it’s best that you listen to him!

36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

-in Mark & Matthew Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about it.  Do you think anyone would have believed them anyway?  Or perhaps Jesus didn’t want it shared until after his death, he wanted it to be seen in the experience of the risen Christ.  And you know, I can understand that, it would have been so much better, a more complete understanding of the experience in terms of Jesus’ resurrection

                -Consider out reading from the second book of Peter(1.16-19), our New Testament reading for this today.  Peter is describing the transfiguration experience.  This book was written at the end of the 1st Century AD—and they were still talking about the transfiguration! Sharing the story of who Jesus was and is, that it was witnessed by ordinary people.  By then they too knew of the resurrection story, like we do, which would help to also put this story in perspective of the larger story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.   In second Peter, reminders as to who Jesus was, and why they knew who he was, a reminder also that when you’re feeling like you’re in a dark place, there is no need to fear!   Because Jesus gives hope, Jesus is the light.


                So now we’ve analyzed this, figured out some of the deeper nuances, and we have a fuller, clearer & deeper understanding of the divinity and glory of Jesus as the culmination of the Laws of Moses and the fulfillment of the prophets’ messages over the centuries.  And he is clearly the son of God.  Ok then, so what?  What does it mean for us in our lives as believing and practising Christians today?   How do we experience the transforming power of Jesus?   Maybe by partaking of the bread and wine of Holy Communion, literally taking into ourselves the strengthening power of Jesus.  Or in prayer—confessing to God your sins and the sense of uplifting joy, in the knowing that God has forgiven you, that you are really forgiven.  And with that you know that you can forgive someone else who has wronged you.  Or maybe in an ‘aha moment’ at a bible or book study, when you suddenly ‘get it’; and come to an even deeper knowledge and love of God and your own faith.  Or experience how the power of prayer changes you deep inside, the power that heals body and spirit. Or feel the power of the divine in a walk in the woods or getting lost in that feeling while watching the beauty of the night sky.  

                             Jesus calls us to walk with him, to follow him up the mountain, and give ourselves, our lives to God, calling us to a deeper experience of him, just as he called Peter, James and John that day.  Sometimes those experiences are difficult; Jesus never said it would be easy.  But we do not walk alone.  When we choose to walk with Jesus, we walk in his light, and not only will we witness what God’s power in Jesus is capable of, but it will transform us as well.  We will each experience it in our own way, and sometimes it’s overwhelming or scary, but Jesus is there with us, ready to put a reassuring hand on our shoulder, telling us it’s ok, and that we don’t need to be afraid. 


[1] accessed July 31, 2019

[2] The New Oxford Annotated Bible (2001) Commentary for Luke 9: 28-36

[3] ibid

[4] Kimberly Miller van Driel in Homiletical Perspective for Luke 9: 28-36 in Feasting on the Word: Year C Volume 1 (2009) p.453

[5] Lori Brandt Hale in Theological Perspective for Luke 9: 28-36 in Feasting on the Word: Year C Volume 1 (2009) p. 456