One of my favourite Gospel passages for preaching
from is Matthew 17.1-9,
‘Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and
James and his brother John 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 dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah,
talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be
here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for
Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright
cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the
Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard
this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and
touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up,
they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
‘As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus
ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been
raised from the dead.’’
Note what Jesus does, the action words: he took…he
The Greek word translated ‘took’ is paralambanó,
to take or receive from. Jesus receives Peter, James and John.
The Greek word translated ‘led’ is anapheró,
to offer up as a sacrifice. Jesus carries his friends and presents them to his
The Greek word translated ‘touched’ is haptomai,
to lay hold of and, by touching, to change or modify. This is the power of
touch: think of a fearful animal calmed by a vet, or a distressed child held by
a loving adult.
The pattern we see here in this passage is the
pattern we rehearse Sunday by Sunday in the eucharist.
On a table near the door, sits the ciborium
containing the wafers for Communion. There is, approximately, one for everyone.
This is part of the gifts of the people, a symbolic representation of our
offering ourselves to Jesus and being received by him. At a certain point, the
mid-point of the service, the ciborium is carried up the nave to the altar,
along with the flagon of wine, and the (financial) collection plate. We then pray
over these, the person who presides taking the bread in their hands and asking
the Holy Spirit to do something transformative, that this bread may be for us
the body of Jesus. That we might encounter Jesus here. Neither the bread nor
the one who consumes it are changed in their substance; yet both are transfigured,
such that the true body of Christ in the Father’s glory is revealed. When the
one administering Communion places a wafer on the outstretched palm of the
communicant, saying, ‘the body of Christ,’ they speak to a mystery that
encompasses unleavened bread and recognises Christ in one another, the giver
who is now receiving back and the receiver who is now giving away. This is
Mystery, not to be laid bare by the understanding of the mind, but entered ever
more fully into, heart and soul and mind and bodily strength.
wants to prolong the moment, the ecstatic experience. But Jesus intends to receive
and lead them back down the mountain, and give them for the healing of the
world. For its transfiguration, the revealing of God’s glory in the human. Ultimately,
he is heading to Jerusalem, and to torturous death, and resurrection.
Immediately, he is going to bring peace to an anxious father and his troubled
son. But his friends have been overcome by fear at hearing the voice of the
living God address them from the luminous cloud, and so pre-eminently Jesus
declares, Do not be afraid. Only then does he send them out.
is our peace, the one who reconciles us to God. The one who receives us, lifts
us up, transforms our lives by his touch, and sends us out into the world to
love and serve him.