Important Friends

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

How much more likely are you to respond to an email or phone call if it’s prefaced with, “Our mutual friend So-and-So suggested I get in touch with you…?” Knowing that a stranger is connected to someone we know makes us more open. So it’s significant that the next event in this “long, strange trip” the disciples enjoy up on that mountain is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Leaving aside the question of how they knew who those two were, here’s a deeper one: why Moses and Elijah?

I can think of at least two reasons: Tradition and Testimony. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. Jesus and his followers took care to communicate that Jesus’ teaching and ministries were a fulfillment of previous revelation, not a departure. On Easter afternoon, when the risen Jesus comes upon a couple of sad disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’re told: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

Moses was the great giver of the Law, the commandments sent from God. And Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets of Israel, said to have been carried up into heaven in a chariot of fire at the end of his life. This is why the Jewish people held an expectation of Elijah’s return.

These two great heroes of the tradition had something else in common – they were both recipients of “theophanies,” encounters in which God made himself known to them. Moses spent time in the presence of God, both on Mount Sinai and in the Tent of Meeting. And Elijah was told, in a moment of despair, to stand outside the cave in which he was hiding, and that God would pass by – and God did.

And then there is the matter of testimony. I suggested earlier this week that Jesus was preparing these three followers to bear witness to his true identity after his resurrection. Jewish law required at least three witnesses. Perhaps Moses and Elijah appear here as witnesses to the witnesses – their presence a vivid testimony that this vision was real and true.

Does it matter to us that Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain? Well, it connects this odd revelation with the great tradition out of which our religious heritage emerged. While that might not be persuasive to a skeptic, it was enough to ground the claims about Jesus in a larger story, and that did help Jews of his day believe.

Perhaps this is how the communion of saints functions for some. Those who have spiritual encounters with saints (and I don’t mean ghosts…) can find their faith encouraged and strengthened by the testimony of people who have been with God. Nothing beats being in the presence of Jesus himself, of course, but we all have different filters and different ways of connecting, and sometimes we believe more readily when people we trust have gone there first.

Which gets us back to telling the stories of our encounters with God. You never know when you might function as a Moses or Elijah to someone trying to get a grip on this strange and wondrous revelation of ours. Maybe if people see us hanging out with Jesus – or at least hear about it – they’ll be more eager to meet him themselves.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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