I know what you’re thinking: “Wud ya mean ‘FRUITCAKE Sunday’? . . . It’s gonna be TRANSFIGURATION Sunday!” (Aren’t we all enthusiastically preparing for Transfiguration Sunday; ordering the spiral-sliced ham; cleaning and decorating; getting ready for a houseful of relatives, including weird uncle Ralph?)
If you aren’t familiar with the Transfiguration Event, here’s the short version:
- Jesus, James, John, and Peter hike up to the top of a mountain.
- Really strange stuff happens: Jesus appearance changes to something ethereal, Moses and Elijah pay a visit, and God speaks out of a cloud.
- Jesus, James, John, and Peter hike back down the mountain.
It sounds simple enough, but it isn’t, and I think it might be more accessible and understandable if we first get rid of the unwieldy name “Transfiguration” and call it something just as descriptive — Fruitcake. I chose Fruitcake, not because what happens during the event is crazy (it is), but because it is theologically dense and packed with symbolism like a fruitcake is packed with candied fruit.
Consider the symbols packed into nine verses:
- mountaintop – important things in the OT happen on mountains
- (Jesus’) glowing face – remember Moses after he received the Law from God?
- (Jesus’) brilliant white clothing – purity, holiness, the garb of the martyrs (Revelation)
- Moses – God’s Law and covenant
- Elijah – God’s prophets
- cloud from which God’s voice is heard – theophany (manifestation of God)
- two + one witnesses – the testimony of two witnesses were considered reliable
If that isn’t enough, the very number of symbols (if I’ve enumerated them correctly) is seven, the number symbolic of perfection in Jewish gematria.
As I said earlier, it’s a theological fruitcake, both dense and heavy.
I won’t unpack any of this here because I’m preaching it on Sunday. However, I want to share one observation. I had always taken it for granted that the meaning of Jesus’ transfiguration is right out front in his changed appearance coupled with the visit by Moses and Elijah. While there’s powerful message in these things is readily seen, there is more that isn’t so obvious but Matthew is careful to bring to our attention: the mountain, cloud, the repetition of three (Jesus/Moses/Elijah & James/John/Peter), Peter’s wanting to build shrines, what God says. All of this stuff baked together offers us a very rich theological treat indeed!
I may do more unpacking after I’ve preached the Fruitcake on Fruitcake Sunday.