Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Feast of The Transfiguration of Our Lord



Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What we are blessed to see in the Transfiguration of Our Lord is a small glimpse and preview of the fullness of God’s glory which is located in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. But, though Jesus’ face and clothes shined with unborrowed light, He was the same man Jesus. That is to say that He was the same man Jesus who had first called Peter, James, and John to follow Him. He was the same man Jesus whom they had witnessed turn water into wine, cleanse a leper, and heal a paralytic. He was the same man Jesus whom Peter had boldly and truthfully confessed to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Only now, for a brief moment, they were blessed to see the glory of God that had been there with Him, and in Him, though veiled, all along.

He was the same man Jesus. God’s glory had been with Him and in Him all along. Therefore, what we have heard and seen in the Word of God this Epiphantide were but small manifestations, or epiphanies, of that glory in Jesus’ Words and deeds. But, the man Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, the Word made flesh, dwelling amongst us, was, and is, and ever shall be the fullness of God’s glory. The light now shining from Jesus’ face and clothes in the Transfiguration does not make Him more glorious than when He laid as a helpless infant in a feeding trough for animals. That light had always been there, though veiled, for indeed, Jesus is the very Light of the World. He is the Light which shined in the darkness before the creation of sun, moon, or stars. Jesus is the Light in the darkness of our world of sin and death in which we still live. And, Jesus is the Light of heaven in which the Saints bask and dwell in eternity with no need for either lamp or sun. Jesus has always been this Light and, though His glorious Light was hidden for a while beneath the veil of His humanity, Peter, James, and John were permitted a brief unveiling to prepare them, and to strengthen them, to embrace the fullness of God’s glory that would soon be revealed in the suffering and death of the man Jesus upon the cross.

It was a glorious, mountaintop experience, to be sure, to behold Jesus in brilliant, blinding light. But then, two men appeared with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. St. Luke informs us that they were talking to Jesus about His departure, or, in Luke’s Greek, His exodus, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Imagine that, Moses, God’s chosen leader of Israel in their exodus out of bondage and slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt speaking with Jesus, the New Moses, about the exodus He was about to make to free God’s people from bondage and slavery to sin, death, and Satan through His bodily suffering and death on the cross in Jerusalem, leading them into the Promised Land of eternal life with God in heaven. And then, to see Jesus speaking too with Elijah, the Great Prophet of Israel. Both of these men had served the LORD in their lives, preaching, teaching, and confessing their faith in God and in His covenant promise to send a Messiah and Redeemer to forgive the people of their sins. And, both of these men had died trusting in the LORD’s faithfulness to keep His promise, yet, behold, there they are alive, standing in God’s glory shining forth from Jesus, talking to Him, talking about Him, as they once did on earth, about His exodus which He was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem. Moses represented the Law of God given in the Ten Commandments and in the sacrificial system of the people of Israel, and Elijah represented the prophetic Word of God given through the mouths of the prophets to rebuke the people of their sins, to turn them in repentance, and to proclaim to them God’s abundant mercy, grace, and forgiveness in providing for them a Messiah, Redeemer, and Savior. For, all of the Law and the Prophets, all of the Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, served to convey this message, this Gospel, this Christ who was about to accomplish and finish all things necessary to restore men to righteousness before God. Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus in glory are the living proof of God’s promise kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, given as a preview of a greater glory still.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Peter wanted to enshrine that glory. Peter wanted to stay on that mountaintop in the glorious Light of God’s glory and build shrines for St. Moses, for St. Elijah, and for the Son of God Jesus Christ. Who could blame him? People would come from every tribe and every nation on earth to worship God at this shrine; there was no doubt about it. Every knee would bow on earth before this clear, obvious, and convincing glory, confessing that God is LORD of all and that Jesus Christ is His only-begotten Son. It’s reasonable to think that Peter had only the best of intentions, that people would confess the one, true God and worship Jesus as Messiah and Lord. But, he didn’t know what he was saying. He hadn’t understood and believed what Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, had said. And, he hadn’t understood and believed what Jesus Himself had repeatedly said, that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Thus, while Peter was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. God the Father had said these same Words before at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, but this time He added the Words “Listen to Him”. Not only is God the Father fully pleased with humankind in His Son Jesus Christ, but Jesus is the very Word of God in human flesh. The Words that proceed from Jesus’ mouth are the living and creative Word of God by which all things were made and are sustained. The disciples are to listen to Jesus’ Words and teaching as authoritative even as they have so viewed the words and teachings of Moses and the Prophets, the Holy Scriptures. Thus, as Jesus will now have Words for them that are difficult to hear, to receive, and to believe, they must trust Jesus and His Words as they must trust God the Father Himself.

But then, Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And now they have come full circle, for, the glory of God was always present and located in the person of Jesus. In the incarnation, the Glory of God took up residence in the womb of the Virgin Mary, making her the new Ark of the Covenant and her womb the Holy of Holies. In Jesus’ life and ministry He manifested His glory through wondrous signs and deeds. On the Mount of Transfiguration the veil was removed temporarily so that the primordial Light of God’s Glory shone from its source in Jesus’ face and clothing. But then, when the Light, and the cloud, and the voice had gone away, when Moses and Elijah disappeared from their presence, the disciples saw Jesus alone – the Glory of God still with Him and in Him, veiled in humanity – as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

For, the man Jesus is the Glory of God. Or, as the second century church Father Irenaeus once wrote, “the Glory of God is a man fully alive.” And the fullest expression of God’s Glory as a man is not to be worshiped and adored on a mountain top in shining light and thunderous Words from heaven, but the fullest expression of God’s Glory as a man was when Jesus willingly laid down His life unto death on the cross to redeem all humankind from sin, and death, and Satan. Jesus taught His disciples that greater love was not possible than that a man should die for his friends. And, Jesus revealed the fullness of God’s Glory when He willingly suffered and died for all men, even those who hated Him, whom He counted as His friends and as brothers.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” God’s glory shining in and through Jesus is a secret. It was given to the three disciples to prepare them and to encourage them for what was to come. For, Jesus knew that they would stumble over His cross, over His suffering and death, but, by showing them in advance His hidden glory, they would remember and understand after His resurrection on the third day. For, it was not sufficient that men should worship Jesus on a mountaintop, as glorious as that might truly be, for apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are still in our sins and are consigned to death and hell. But, the Glory of God is a man fully alive, a man who has died to sin and who now lives to God, the True Man in whom all men have life, Jesus Christ. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die and to be raised again on the third day, and thus, the fullness of God’s Glory is revealed in the Son of God, Jesus, dead upon the cross. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the sun failed to shine that day when the Son of God, its source and the Light of the World, died upon the cross.

It is no cleverly devised myth, as enemies of the faith are want to say, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus was a real man, flesh and blood, just like you and me. He was conceived and born of a human mother, raised in an average household, matured and grew in stature and wisdom before God and men. He was a respected rabbi, a faithful friend, who called people to repentance and to realign themselves with God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures. And, for this, He was hated by some and was arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified unto death. But, all the while, He was fullness of God’s Glory, veiled and hidden in humanity. And, when He died, all of creation confessed His glory. And, when He rose, men remembered what He had said, what Moses and the Prophets had said, what had always been said, and that it was all true: God Himself has provided the Passover Lamb that has taken away the sins of the world. The fullness of the Glory of God has been revealed in His self-offering unto death for the life of the world. Alleluia!

And so today we begin our descent from the Mount of Transfiguration glory to follow Jesus to the cross. Today we say farewell to Alleluia, anticipating its joyful resurrection on Easter Sunday. But, we do not leave behind one glory to seek another, for the mountaintop glory of Transfiguration is the same glory that is located in Jesus’ humility and that is seen and confessed in its fullness on the mountaintop of Calvary in Jesus’ death on the cross. For, the glory of God is a man fully alive, and Jesus becomes that man, and we become that man, only through Jesus’ death upon the cross.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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