The Transfiguration of Fear

Matthew 17:1-8


What are you afraid of? What do you fear?  It seems to me that we live in an era of fear. Fear of economic collapse, crime, the future… Every chance they get, the media tells us about all the things we have to be afraid of, from incompetent governance to plastic to dairy.  I often feel that people have become crippled by fear.


When we are scared, we try to put things in boxes.  If we can only structure, organise, have everything in its box, where we can explain and control – then we will be safe.

The thing is, we try to do the same with God.  We try to fit God into our boxes.  Safe.  Predictable.  I read about an adult telling kids that God does not fit in our boxes.  To which the kids replied, “Use a bigger box!” Which is exactly what we do.  We use a bigger box.  Where – no matter what flowery theological language we use –  God is in our service.  Where God’s job is to make us happy.  To ensure that everything goes well with us.


Then we are confronted with texts like today’s: 

2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

This is not Jesus “meek and mild”.  This is Jesus, the Christ, in his divine form.

Of course, Peter and John and James saw Jesus walking on water, talking to the wind, casting out demons, even raising the dead.  But now they stand in the presence of the Christ, the Light of the world. Even more: Moses and Elijah stand with him – the Law and the Prophets in the Light of the Word.

And Peter? Well. Peter.

Peter immediately wants to build a box. He calls it a hut. But it’s a box – a way to control Jesus.

And while he’s still speaking, still making plans to have everything fit into his understanding, Heaven interrupts:

5 … 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!”

Fear of God

There are no words for such a moment. You can’t hold it in your mind, cannot put it in a box.

When they realized this, their faces turned pale and their knees gave out. They became frightened and fell to the ground.

Which is an appropriate response.

They saw the One who danced with creation.

Fear is the appropriate response.

Fear of God v Fear in Life

Most fears are toxic. It takes away the peace God promises.  It turns us into slaves. Disempowers us.

But the fear of God…

God reveals himself to us, lets himself be known in Christ, so that we may fear the RIGHT things.

As Ellen Davis says:

Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.

Can you remember this fear? That deep awe of the Lord that you feel in your skin and bone, which forces you to your knees and pushes the breath out of your lungs? When last did a look at God passing you leave you speechless and out of breath?

I’m guessing for most of us it’s been quite a while.

Which explains why the everyday fears of everyday life paralyze us.

For when Christ is great, our fears are not. The bigger our image of Christ, the smaller our fears become. A great God leads to great courage. But a small image of God leads to little believers cowering under the blankets, terrified of the monsters under the bed.

God in a box may easily fit into our theology, or our schedule, or our daily lives …. but he does not change our fears of the future and the economy and violence and injustice.

Between life and death

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the time between the celebration of Epiphany – the appearance of Christ in the world – and the start of lent, when we see the Christ suffering.

In the gospels, the Transfiguration serves as a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and the cross.

Jesus takes his 3 friends with him up the mountain, knowing what is to come – not only for him, but also for them.  Jesus knows what they will have to endure, what they will have to witness.  How they will struggle to understand.  How their boxes, their perception of him and his work, will be blown apart.

And in preparation for that – for the suffering, the Lent – he takes them up to the mountain.  Seeing him transfigured is preparing them for the tough times ahead.

Our fears

We need this Christ.

The One who shines with the light of the sun, who ascended to heaven, who sits at the right hand of God, on the throne, with angels singing “Holy holy holy.”

That’s our Lord. Look at him. Keep your gaze focused on him.

When you are scared and when the fears of life cast a shadow over you – don’t stare yourself blind, looking at the fearful things.  Look at him – and then see your fears in the light of his glory.

In CS Lewis Narnia book “Prince Caspian”,  Lucy sees Aslan, the lion, for the first time in many years:

 “Aslan”, said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not.  But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

And so it is with Christ.  The longer we know him, the bigger he becomes for us.   It is not he who changes,  but we who see more of him.

Then it is appropriate that we also fall to the ground.

When we fall to the ground in fear of the Lord, he reacts as he reacted on the mountain: He touched his disciples, and said:

Get up and don’t be afraid.

Get up. Don’t be afraid.

Get up. Don’t be afraid.

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