February 14, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Mark 9:2b-9 (NRSV)
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
In the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, at a time least expected, whether we react with faith or fear, whether we preach or ponder, God comes anyway, revealed in all his Easter glory as the one who heals, saves, restores, and ultimately triumphs.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, today on the last Sunday after Epiphany we prepare for Lent by contemplating the Biblical story of the Transfiguration. As I also mentioned yesterday, this story has many things in common with Elijah’s story.
Once again, we have a famous leader and prophet traveling with his disciples. (We know that Jesus was more than a prophet, of course, but many people in his day would have used that category to describe him.) The prophet is actively preaching and working miracles. But all of a sudden, as they say in video games, the prophet “levels up,” revealed to have a kind of glory and authority that astonishes his followers. And, of course, Elijah actually puts in an appearance in Jesus’s story: Elijah and Moses were considered the two great heroes of the Hebrew people, and their appearance with Jesus here shows that the glory and the authority he claims have to be understood in the context of what the Old Testament already tells us about God through prophecy and law.
There are differences, too. Elisha had begged for a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic spirit, but Jesus’ disciples are more timid. They think that the experience is powerful and amazing, but they are also afraid, and they want to build a shelter so that they can stay on the mountain forever. (This is, in fact, the very story from which we derive our phrase “mountaintop experience.”) Then, too, Elisha goes back out and continues Elijah’s prophetic mission, whereas Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone about the experience until the Son of Man rises from the dead. Only then are they to pick up his mantle in a new way, which Elisha had done with Elijah: “He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan” (2 Kings 2:11).
And, of course, the biggest difference of all is that while Elijah’s ascension showed him to be the greatest of Israel’s prophets, Jesus’ transfiguration went a step further: it showed him to be the incarnate Son of God himself, the one with ultimate authority: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
As we move into Lent, I feel—and you may, too—something very similar to what a pastoral colleague of mine said recently: “I feel like I never left Lent last year.” So much of what is around us right now in February 2021 looks so different than we ever could have anticipated last year at this time as we drew close to Ash Wednesday in February 2020. The Lenten reminder to follow Christ, to pray, and to contemplate our own mortality seems so much starker than ever before.
What contemplating Elijah’s story and Jesus’s transfiguration on this day can help us to is to remind us that what we see is not all that is there. In the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, at a time least expected, whether we react with faith or fear, whether we preach or ponder, God comes anyway, revealed in all his Easter glory as the one who heals, saves, restores, and ultimately triumphs.
What is your reaction to Jesus revealing himself in glory?
How can you share that glory with others during Lent?
One song we invariably sing in my church at the beginning of Lent is the 19th-century hymn “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days.” For me it gives a helpful framework to the keeping of a holy Lent and the hoping for a glorious Easter Day. You can hear the hymn here and read the lyrics here. Ponder and pray over them, especially the final verse:
“Abide with us that, when this life
Of suffering is past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last!”
Lord Jesus, abide with us through these forty days as we hope for an Easter of unending joy. Amen.
Next week we enter the Christian season of Lent, a 40-day time of reflection and preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day to remember our mortality and need for a Savior. The De Pree Center has a number of resources to help you grow in your relationship with the Lord through observing Lent, including Ash Wednesday. You can find these resources, including our new devotional guide based on the Stations of the Cross, at this link.
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Transfiguration
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project. She is a priest in the Episcopal Church and an adjunct faculty member at Asbury Theological Seminary. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.