Transfiguring and transforming our lives: Last Sunday Epiphany

Transfiguring and transforming our lives: Last Sunday Epiphany

Year A, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 19, 2023

Year A:  Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 3; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

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Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany – a liturgical season that begins on January 6th. In the Episcopal Church tradition, we know Epiphany as a season in which we celebrate God’s ongoing revelation; the Gospel texts over the past two months have revealed much to us.

First, we witnessed God’s revelation in Jesus’ baptism. Then, on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, we heard John the Baptist invite others to encounter God in Jesus Christ, and Jesus himself asked those who would become disciples to come and see. On the third Sunday, we heard Jesus invite fishermen to become disciples. Finally, on the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Sundays, we heard the Sermon on the Mount, with an overall arc of a call to live a righteous and faithful life, following the teachings of Jesus.

It seems that I often forget how our Lectionary works. I was somewhat surprised to see that we jumped from Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel to Chapter 17, meaning that we missed some of the most important events in Matthew’s Gospel. Alas. I checked the Lectionary throughout the rest of the year. We will pick up most of those stories after Lent and Easter.

And lest I think that there’s not a connection in these seemingly disparate sections of Matthew’s gospel, when we experienced Jesus’ baptism back on the First Sunday after Epiphany, “…a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I well pleased.”[1]

Sound familiar? In today’s Gospel, we hear an almost identical proclamation: “…from the cloud a voice said, This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased;…”.[2]

 The divine proclamations that bookend the season after Epiphany call our attention to Jesus. To be sure, much has been revealed to us during this past season of Epiphany. On this Last Sunday after Epiphany, we have a transition between the season of the Epiphany and the beginning of the season of Lent. This time focuses on Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is also known as Transfiguration Sunday.

In the Transfiguration, we hear of a miraculous event that reveals Jesus’ divine nature and affirms his identity as the Son of God. The appearance of Moses and Elijah also emphasizes the continuity of Jesus’ mission with the Law and the Prophets.

At first glance, the story of the Transfiguration seems like it has little to do with real life. A shining face, dazzling white clothes, and the appearance of two long-ago prophets – what in the world does this have to do with you and me?

It could be that Matthew’s objective in telling this story is to address how we should respond to our own mountaintop experiences – the times in our life when we feel on top of the world and feel surrounded by God’s grace.

Remember that mountaintop experiences are scattered throughout the Bible. The first one that comes to mind is Moses and the Israelites’ experience at Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus.

On the top of Mount Sinai, Moses experienced God. There, Moses received instruction from God and was commanded to go down the mountain and share his God encounter with others. When he went down the mountain, it wasn’t so wonderful. You might recall. People had forgotten how to worship God. Moses may well have preferred to have stayed on the mountain.

Perhaps that’s true for the rest of us. We might prefer our mountaintop experiences to last as long as possible. Certainly, this was true of Jesus’ disciples. Peter, James, and John witness something extraordinary atop a high mountain. They experience God in a direct, powerful, and obvious way. Peter responds by asking permission to build dwellings for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, effectively saying, “Oh, this is wonderful; let’s make sure you all stay here permanently so that I know where to come to find you.”

It’s not a stretch to think that a subsequent request out of Peter’s mouth would have been for permission to build a dwelling for himself so that he would not have to return to the fears and frustrations of his daily life and stay with the Lord on the mountaintop.

On the top of the mountain, finding himself in the incredible presence of God, Peter was inclined to build a building. Such a structure would literally and figuratively allow him to preserve his experience of God in a familiar and easily-accessible form whenever he desired. 

However, God was not pleased with Peter’s efforts to take Jesus captive. God cuts off Peter’s request with a clear command to listen to Jesus. Peter had missed the point. Jesus had no intention of staying on the mountain. He had work to do, and so did Peter. Jesus’ presence would not be exclusively tied to the mountaintop experience; he would also be found in the valleys.

But what does the story of the Transfiguration, a story that has long perplexed priests, professors, and parishioners, have to do with us in 2023?

First, when we encounter God in powerful ways, we, like Peter, try to capture it like we capture all our memories on our smartphones for easy access later.


As people of God, our challenge is to fight the temptation to capture God’s presence like we do photographs or videos.

As people of God, our challenge is to experience God’s presence in the world: in our workplaces, homes, parks, nursing homes, schools, food pantries, and community events as we serve those whose lives are anything but beautiful mountaintop vistas.

The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus remains relevant for us as we seek to understand and deepen our faith. It reminds us that Jesus is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human. It challenges us to go beyond a superficial understanding of Jesus and to explore the depth and mystery of his person and mission.

Moreover, the story of the Transfiguration teaches us about the nature of transformation and transfiguration in our own lives. Just as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we can be transformed through our encounters with God. This transformation is not only a change in appearance but the very essence of who we are, as we are filled with the grace and love of God.

 As Christians, we are called to be transformed and transfigured daily. This transformation involves deepening our relationship with God through prayer, reflection, and service to others. It consists of letting go of our old ways of thinking and behaving and embracing a new way of life rooted in the teachings and example of Jesus. Finally, it involves a commitment to love and serve others, just as Jesus did, and to be a witness to His love and grace in the world. And we are called to do that hard work of transformation?


Kids are unwell in today’s world, worse than ever recorded. In 2011, 29% of young women under 18 felt hopeless and felt their lives were worthless; it was 21% for young men. In 2021, that number was 29% for young men and 57% for young women. Stunning. And sad.

We have to be out there in the world, showing that there is a way to transform our lives. And it’s not a change in appearance, in the way we hear in today’s Gospel story, but in the very essence of who we are – allowing ourselves to be filled with grace and the love of God. That includes deepening our relationship with God through reflection, service to others, letting go of old ways of thinking, behaving in grace, and living in a new way of life rooted in Jesus Christ. And a commitment to love and serve others just as Jesus did.

I invite you to reflect on the story of Jesus’ transfiguration and what it means to you as a follower of Christ. What does it mean to you as a disciple? What does it mean to your faith? We are invited to transform and transfigure our lives and those of others around us.

I pray that we all have mountaintop experiences. I pray that God is revealed in our lives in the most profound and shocking ways. I pray that we experience God as we worship within these walls.

Jesus has no plans to stay on the mountain. From the top of the mountain, Jesus has his eyes firmly affixed on Jerusalem and the cross awaiting him. A very real and painful valley will follow this mountaintop experience. And yet, Jesus has one more thing to say, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Jesus’ words on the mountaintop, words of hope and promise, loudly reverberate in every direction, penetrating every valley and dark place. “Get up and do not be afraid.”

I invite each of you to get up and do not be afraid. As we seek to live out our faith in 2023 and beyond, may we be transformed and transfigured by the love and grace of God, and may we be witnesses to that love and grace in the world.


[1] Matthew 3:17, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Matthew 17:5