It took me a while to keep straight the German word for the Transfiguration. There were a few reasons. For starters, it did not come up often in casual conversation. Even for a graduate student studying theology at a German seminary, conversations involving the Transfiguration were rare. Another reason was its lexical similarity to other words. The German word for Transfiguration is Verklärung. It is a combination of the prefix ver and the root klärung. The root means clarification. Like many German words, change the prefix and the meaning changes. Aufklärung, for example, refers to the Enlightenment. Erklärung means explanation, or declaration. As a native English speaker, it was hard to keep track of the differences. You had to listen carefully to see if we were talking about clarification, explanation, the Enlightenment, or the Transfiguration.
Why the German vocab lesson in a homiletical reflection? Not to suggest that you use the German words in your sermon. Unless you are preaching to a bilingual congregation, please stick with the language your hearers understand. But the relationship between these words in German might help you consider the impact of this unique event on the disciples. In turn, this might help you imagine the impact your sermon could have on your hearers this weekend.
Mark 9:2, “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them.” The Greek (μετεμορφώθη) draws attention to what happened to Jesus. He was changed, transformed, metamorphized. But Luther’s translation of the German invites reflection on how the disciples perceived it. Jesus was verklärt before them. Words like clarification, explanation, and enlightenment come to mind.
These words suggest working with a vision metaphor, which is appropriate given what happened on the mountain that day. The disciples saw something. Jesus gave them a glimpse of His divine nature, a peek beyond His humanity, not only through the radiance of His intensely white clothes, but also through the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Peter recognized the two prophets. He saw something significant was happening and he wanted it to last. But then, as quickly as they appeared, they vanished. The glimpse was over. The sneak peek was ended. And all they saw was Jesus only.
The disciples saw something. Jesus gave them a glimpse of His divine nature, a peek beyond His humanity.
It is hard to see clearly these days. While we have never been able to see as much as we would like, today we are more aware of our inability to perceive things as they really are. It is hard to see, for example, which reports, which posts, or which headlines paint the most realistic picture. Photoshop is only part of the problem. Add to it the rapid spread of misinformation, the constant potential for hearing false reports, and the inescapable biases which color every commentary. There is also our desire, at times, to avoid looking at the truth. And that is just the present. Try looking to the future and you will be even less certain of what you see.
In the sermon, then, you might do what Jesus did on the Mount of Transfiguration. I am not talking about getting your robes cleaned this week (although it might be time for that, too). And I am not talking about adding extra lights to the chancel. I am talking about giving your hearers a vision of Jesus and His divinity. This vision should clarify for them who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and how He helps us see everything else more clearly.
What might you help them see? One approach would be to reflect on His relationship to Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the Prophet who stands head and shoulders even over these two prophets. He fulfilled their words and proclaimed an even more expansive vision of divine grace and mercy than they foresaw. Another approach would be to highlight Jesus’ resurrection and the way in which it sheds light on everything else. The light of Easter morning is ultimately the only light in which we see Jesus clearly (see 1 Corinthians 15:14-20, for example). The risen Lord helps us see His victory over all our enemies. He gives us a vision for new life in service to others. He opens our eyes to the eternal life that is ours by grace. And importantly, the risen Lord helps us see we do not need to see everything perfectly here and now. As long as we see Jesus—crucified, risen, returning—we can get by, for the time being, seeing everything else dimly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 9:2-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 9:2-9.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 9:2-9.