Sunday, January 17, 2016
Homily for 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.
In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, our God grants us sinful and corrupted mortals a peek behind the veil. Through the eyes and the ears of Peter, James, and John, we are granted to see, for just a moment, what even the High Priest in the temple could not see when he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. We are granted to see what Abraham and Moses could not see, and what Isaiah could see only in a vision. For, what we are granted to see in the Transfiguration of Our Lord is the fullness of the glory of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we see the fullness of God’s glory in the human person of Jesus, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, as a man.
On the mountaintop, we see the full, unveiled meaning of the Incarnation, of Christmas. We see Emmanuel, God with us as a man, and more importantly, man taken up into God. This is our future glory. But, this is also, though hidden, our glory now. Our glory is not in ourselves, but our glory is in Jesus who has taken up our flesh, has died for our sins, has been raised for our justification, and who has ascended to the right hand of the Father in our human flesh in the full glory of God. A flesh and blood human man now sits and reigns in the full-on presence of God’s glory as His Son. And we are baptized into Him. All that belongs to Him He shares with us, even His new and everlasting life. This is the meaning of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. We will not experience the fullness of Jesus’ glory until the Resurrection or our own bodies, but, spiritually, we are living that glorious resurrection life already and now.
Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. They were living witnesses of the promise that those who die in the Lord will live. They were witnesses of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises as they stood in the fullness of His glory and were not consumed. St. Luke tells us that they were talking to Jesus about the Exodus He was about to lead in Jerusalem. Imagine that! Moses, God’s prophet and anointed leader of the Exodus out of Egypt and Elijah, the greatest of God’s anointed Old Testament prophets were discussing the new and better Exodus that Jesus, the New Moses and the Great Prophet, was about to begin. Jesus’ Exodus was not out of slavery and bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt, but Jesus would lead His people out of slavery and bondage to sin and death through His own crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Jesus, the New Joshua, would lead His people across the River of Life into the Promised Land of Heaven, into the full-on presence and glory of God forever.
Now, if you were Peter, standing in the glorious presence of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah by His side, I suspect that you might also say, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Peter was overcome by the original of what we now commonly call a “mountaintop experience.” Peter wanted to preserve that experience – and I know that you want to do the same – so he proposed that he might “pitch a tent” for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. “Pitch a tent” – that’s a form of the same Greek word used John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and [pitched His tent] among us.” It’s the same word that is translated as tabernacle in the Old Testament. Peter wished to provide a shelter, a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. You can see now how absurd and backwards was his thinking. Jesus does not need to be tabernacled, but Peter, James, John, you, and I need to be tabernacled and to be sheltered by Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God tabernacled among us. Jesus is the tabernacle made without human hands that provides shelter for all who take refuge in Him. Let us all, and always, seek refuge in Jesus Christ and His gifts. His Word and His Sacraments are the means of His grace through which He preserves, strengthens, keeps, and protects you until the resurrection of your bodies and their transfiguration to be like His glorious body.
While Peter was still speaking, while his confused, sin-corrupted thoughts were still babbling out of his mouth, the bright cloud of God’s glory tabernacled over Peter, James, and John. Then the Father spoke, just as He had at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Suddenly the terrible reality of their mountaintop experience was made fully apparent. Their arrogance, their pride, and their self-righteousness in presuming that they could stand as they were in their sin, with their sin-corrupted good works like filthy rags, before the LORD in His glory was shattered, and they fell down on their faces as though dead. This was the same reaction that Isaiah had when he beheld the LORD’s glory in a vision. Just as Isaiah’s guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for as an angel touched his lips with a glowing coal from the altar of sacrifice, so Jesus reached out His hand and He touched His disciples and absolved them saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or “Rise and walk?” Jesus’ Word is His absolution. Jesus’ Word brings into being what it says. Where there is forgiveness there is no fear, but there is life and salvation.
“When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Moses and Elijah had withdrawn to the realm of those who have died in the Lord and await His return and the resurrection of their bodies. They, like the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, are with Him now and forever in paradise. The cloud of glory, too, had gone away, and Jesus’ face and clothing and flesh veiled His glory once again. They were granted but a peek behind the veil that their faith might be strengthened and that they might persevere, bearing their own crosses in the way of their Lord as He soon would take up the cross and their sin and the sins of all men and suffer and die for the life of the world. They followed Jesus down the mountain, leaving the glory behind to suffer under the cross. There will come a holy and permanent mountaintop experience, but now is not the time. The lesson of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is that we have that glory now, though veiled, in Jesus and in His gifts of Word and Sacrament. These seeming humble, foolish, and weak things the LORD has invested with His glorious Word and Promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. They are our food and drink, the very air we breath, by which we are forgiven, faith is strengthened, and we live until He comes and raises our bodies and unveils their glory, glory like His, the only-begotten Son of the Father from eternity.
God knows that you in your flesh, with your fallen reason, wisdom, and desires, are attracted to things that dazzle the senses, that have worldly value, that bring sensual pleasure, and seem wise in the minds of men. You count as glorious and as evidence of God’s blessing large churches, overflowing coffers, numerous parishioners and programs and parking lots. Weakness and humility, poverty and lowliness, an emphasis on sin and your need for forgiveness, a preference for the mutilated body of Jesus upon a tree instead of an empty cross or, even better, a resurrected Lord with lifted hands and a smile on His face, make you grimace uncomfortably and wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’ve just got it all wrong. God knows this about you. And, God knew this about His disciples. Therefore He granted them this peek behind the veil in the Transfiguration of Our Lord. It is meant to encourage you and to strengthen your faith that you might persevere through temptation and tribulation, most of which come from your own sinful, fallen reason and desires.
Years later, long after Jesus’ resurrection, St. Peter told the account of his mountaintop experience in an epistle to the Church saying that, despite the glorious vision they were granted to see, “we have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” That “something more sure” is here for you today. You are invited, not to peek behind the veil, but to see with the eyes of faith the glory of God that is hidden, right here, right now, tabernacled among you. The word of absolution, Law, and Gospel proclaimed by this sinful man is God’s Word of promise to you that you can trust and take comfort in. This ordinary water is the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who are washed and believe. This humble bread and wine is the resurrected and glorified body and blood of Jesus just as He promises in His Word for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, for life and for salvation. And, because of your Holy Baptism into Jesus, His glory is hidden within you as well. Once you dwelt in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord. Walk therefore as children of Light.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.