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The Transfiguration

Our scripture readings this morning describe two incredible events.

We’ll start with our Old Testament reading first.

The story about how the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven in the whirlwind is ancient Hebrew legend that has found its way into the Old Testament.  Elijah was a prophet of the Kingdom of Israel, during the time of King Omri and his son Ahab in the 9th century BC.  Israel was by far the larger and most prosperous of the two divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah but Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and fell in 722BC.  It became part of the Assyrian empire and the Israelite population was largely deported and foreigners were resettled in their place from other parts of the empire.

All we know about Elijah comes from the Book of Kings.  This was written during the reign of King Josiah of Judah in the mid 7th century BC.

Elijah was expected to return in the same way that he had been taken up.  Listen to this passage from the prophet Malachi.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses;
the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 
Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

In this prophecy we have mention of the Law of Moses. The first five books of the Old Testament are the Law of Moses. The full altof the first book is “The First Book of Moses, (commonly) called Genesis, and so on, up to the fifth book, Deuteronomy. So the Old Testament begins with the giving of the Law, and the very last book ends with this prophecy of Malachi, about the coming of Elijah.

Let’s take a look at the background to today’ Gospel.  First the broader picture.

It’s from the Gospel according to St Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written which starts with Mark’s title for the book “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Mark quotes a prophecy of Isaiah “Behold, I send my messenger … a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way …’ John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness declaring a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mark tells us that after John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God.  While Jesus was in Galilee he made Capernaum his base.

The turning point in the gospel comes when in chapter 7 Jesus began to travel further afield.  He and his disciples left Capernaum, travelling north as far as Tyre and Sidon, in the Roman province of Syria, then back into the Decapolis.  On the way Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000; he warned, then challenged the twelve.  Then travelling by way of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, they turned north again, and arrived at Caesarea Philippi, a little to the south of Mount Hermon.

Here Jesus asked the twelve “Who do men say that I am?”
They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others one of the prophets.”
“But you.” said Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

And now we’ve come point when the events of our gospel reading this morning, took place.  All three synoptic evangelists tell us about the transfiguration of Jesus.  Mark tells us that after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John up into a high mountain, where as we’ve just heard, his clothes became glistening intensely white. 

And he was in the company of Moses the lawgiver, and the prophet Elijah. 
And then there was the voice from the clouds.
And then they were alone, just the four of them.

Our reading ends with them coming down the mountain while Jesus told them not to say what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They didn’t understand what he meant, but they kept quiet about it, just as he’d told them to.

These next few verses after our reading are a conclusion to today’s Gospel.

They asked Jesus “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”
Jesus answered “Yes, he must come first.”  And he asked them, “And how is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?”  Then he explained to them that Elijah had already come “and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

His meaning was that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist.

We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning: from the start of the Old Testament with the books of Moses, the Lawgiver, to the prophecy of the coming of Elijah in the last few verses of the prophet Malachi at the end of the Old Testament.

We’ve opened the New Testament at the start of the first written gospel of Mark with the appearance of John the Baptist (the last of the prophets) in the wilderness.  And we’ve come to the point when the three apostles have heard the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”

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